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I'm an Identity Thief and I Want My Identity Back [Part 1]

Found this on a darkweb forum. It was posted only yesterday, and I thought you all might find it interesting. Fair warning, there's supposedly more to come, according to the comments on the forum, so this isn't an all inclusive post. I decided to paste it here in real time as it was posted instead of waiting until they were done putting it all online.
From here on out, this is a direct copy-paste of the post, plus some formatting for Reddit.
 
 
I fucked up. Badly.
My whole life has been a great, big fuckup, but this really takes the cake. I'll be dead soon, so it can't get much worse.
My name is Michael Kay, also known as Neale Keaton. If you're running your little bots trying to find my name, it'll match this post. Hello, my little darkweb stalkers.
I'm about to give you my version of events. I'm about to show you that you're being played like the gullible little basement dwellers you are.
So sit down, go fullscreen, and read this through to the end.
Because I think that by the end, you'll see things my way.
 
I'm an identity thief. Have been for four years. When I got out of the military, I couldn't adjust back to "normal" life. I got stuck in the same cycle that other vets do.
No job, living on savings from my military income, and trying to kick my drinking habit.
After almost a year, I came to a brutal conclusion that is the reality for many people in this economy: my identity wasn't worth shit.
I was only a few months away from homelessness, had no prospects at a job, and was lacking in the social etiquette needed for dating. I was an only child of two only children. Grandparents were all dead, and my parents... well, I wanted nothing to do with them. They were the reason I joined the military and left home at 18.
Again, my identity was shit.
But, my drunk and sometimes high brain had a thought that kept repeating itself.
What if I were someone else? Someone with a good background. Some work experience, proof that I was a good employee, maybe even a degree.
In the military, I got to share a training ground temporarily with some of the boys heading into the Army Cyber Command. We got a few chances to swap stories, and they talked about the things they were learning. One guy was especially cocking about how "good" he was at navigating the darkweb. He regaled us with stories about finding illegal identities and firearms online before he even joined the military. He told us that the darkweb was full of everything you'd need, legal or illegal.
With that memory in mind, that's who I turned to.
In a move that further diminished my savings, I bought myself a nice identity off the darkweb. A driver's license, social security number, the works. It came with years of taxes being paid on-time, and some falsified work experience. If I paid extra, the people I bought it from would even pick up the phone when the prospective employer called and recommend me as a good employee. They had a fake website for the company and everything.
They even told me that their services were geared towards people like myself. Those unfortunate enough to have a bad identity. People who just needed the leg up of a trustworthy social security number.
And it worked.
I followed their guidelines, and true to their word, I got a job. From my Bachelor's degree in Business Management, I landed a position as a store manager for a small retail chain.
During the day, I went to work and pretended I knew what the hell was going on.
At night, I got a couple of dated self-help books from the library so I could make it look like I knew what I was doing with all the spreadsheets, scheduling, profit and loss statements, and anything else I was given.
I worked hard. I didn't sit on my ass and let my identity carry me. I worked to earn what I'd been given, and it was the only way I could live with what I'd done.
I was told that the identity was from a child who had died at birth, yet the social security number had not been discarded. The people I bought it from had "raised" that social security number. They hacked into school databases and inserted their name and grades, and did everything they needed to make the kid look like he'd grown into the man I was.
Or rather, the man whose shoes I would step into.
That identity saved me.
But good things can't last forever.
 
While the identity gave me a second chance, it didn't give me good money. The job was good enough to subsist on, but after a year and then two years, I found that I was unable to save anything. At the rate I was going, I'd be working until I was 65 years old and yet have nothing to show for it.
Once your basic needs are met, higher needs come into play. I learned that while reading books about business. Books about how to understand your customers. Even if all their basic needs are met, people are never satisfied.
We crave purpose. We crave something higher. Something better. All the time and always. No matter how high you go, you'll always find something more to want.
The same psychology that has been plaguing humanity for thousands of years, affected me.
I didn't want to be a store manager my entire life. But I also wasn't sure what I wanted.
So, I explored. I read even more books. I'd never read that much in my life, but I was on a mission. I was searching for something, some kind of meaning. I'd been given a second chance, and I wanted to do something with it. But I had no idea what it was.
My first wrong decision, which led me to where I am now, came during work. I was manning a register while one of my employees took a break, and a customer left their debit card behind. I didn't notice it until a few customers later, when one held it up and said "I think someone forgot this."
I took it, stuck it in the bottom of the cash drawer, and thanked that customer.
My employee returned, and I went back to my office to work on more spreadsheets.
At the end of their shift, the employee, whose register I had taken over, brought me the card. I told him I'd take care of it, and took it for safekeeping.
As I turned it around in my hand after he left, my brain started to run things over in my head. I had questions.
What was to stop me from sliding this card through the card reader at a register, choosing to process it as a credit card, and withdrawing cash? Who would know? How would they trace me?
The store didn't have cameras. We were in a good enough neighborhood that my superior had decided not to pay for them.
So, in all seriousness, who would know?
Nobody.
 
My plan was devised while sitting in the office.
It was just past lunch and time for a couple more employees to take breaks. I walked over, card in my pocket, and told the cashier that it was their time for a break. They happily walked to the break room, and I slipped into their place.
The other cashier and I worked through a couple more customers, then we had nothing to do. The store wasn't busy during this time.
I told the other cashier to take some returned merchandise and enter it into the inventory computer in the back. They obeyed, and I had my chance.
Swiftly, I moved to the other cashier's register and typed on their machine. I logged in under their name. They were new, and I had just barely trained them on the system. I only knew their password because it was literally "1234567". I'd seen them type it so many times that I had incidentally memorized it. Their login was the key to my plan.
With their account open, I scanned a pack of gum and rang out the "customer." I slid the card through the card reader, punched in $100 in cash to withdraw, and waited for the approval.
Ding.
Approved.
The cash drawer popped open, I extracted a couple tens, some fives, and a 20 before slamming it closed. I snatched the receipt, stuffed everything into my pocket, including the gum, and went back to my register.
When the other cashier returned, I told them I needed a few minutes in my car. That's where I hid the gum, receipt, and cash.
On my way back in, I used my shirt to wipe the card clean of any fingerprints. I dropped it by the curb on my way into the store, stomping on it a couple of times to make it look abused.
Taking a deep breath, I walked back inside.
Son of a bitch. It worked.
 
There was never and kickback from that experiment. The customer never came to the register asking about their card, and the card disappeared from the curb outside before the end of the day. I suspect that the customer found it there when they came back for their card.
I'm willing to guess that the customer talked to their bank about the extra transaction. The bank probably refunded them and gave them a new card, and the police never showed up asking questions.
At home, I burned the receipt and the gum pack. I burned the gum pack so the barcode could never be traced to me. Just in case.
To celebrate, I used the cash to treat myself to a very expensive dinner that night.
All the evidence was gone, and I was clear and free.
And the thrill was exactly what I'd been searching for.
 
From there, I brainstormed and even researched better ways to accomplish what I wanted.
My goals were two-fold:
1) Make a decent chunk of money. Generate enough to save for long-term goals and happiness.
2) Not harm the identities of those who I used.
And, of course, not get fucking caught.
Generally, I planned this out by attacking many targets for small amounts, maybe a hundred dollars or less. If I hit six to ten targets a month, that'd be anywhere from $600 to $1000 extra a month. Which was enough.
There were a lot of technical details that I had to plan for. I couldn't keep using my store: it was too obvious and the police would be on me in a month easily. I also couldn't use the same city. Some debit cards wouldn't let you withdraw cash without a pin. I got lucky the first time. And, what if the customer didn't have $100 in their account?
I had to look at contingencies for contingencies.
I also had to set rules for myself.
Don't use an ATM. Don't use cards in stores that have cameras. Stay with crowds and look for cameras outside each store, like in the parking lots. Don't deposit the cash you took into your own bank account. Don't put it in a safety deposit box either. All kinds of rules based on my research and contingency planning.
I bought a pen-camera off of ebay which I used while going to the store. I used it to film the person in front of me obscurely. I always got in line behind a man, too.
When they pulled their card out, they often held it around their chest, like they wanted people to see their card. Rarely did people try to obscure their pins.
At home, I would pull the video from my camera for the day and hope that at least one card was legible enough that I could extract the card number, expiration date, and name.
A lot of people like to stand in line with their card on the counter until it's their time to pay. Or they hold it over the card reader like it's a race and they're waiting for the gun to fire. It's ridiculously easy for someone like me to extract that info with a camera.
I set up an account on the darkweb where I would submit the card information, and a shiny, newly printed debit or credit card would show up in the mail. They routed the envelope through a network of darkweb "MailMen" so the envelope never even used the actual postal service.
I would scuff the card up a bit, validate the data on my own card reader that I purchased through another darkweb service, and queue it up for use.
I had a queue system so the cards were never used in perfect order, and were used a few months after I had snatched their information.
I was grabbing information in stores that had cameras, so I wanted there to be time between when I grabbed it and when I used it. Sometimes this meant that the card went out of service before I could use it. But I was collecting enough cards that it didn't matter.
I had no way to know if the cards would work, so before going to pay, I would have a contact buy a song on an obscure site using the card. It was a site that didn't require the security code printed on the back of regular cards, since I didn't have those codes.
My phone would buzz after the transaction went through or failed, and I'd know whose card was next to be used. I'd get in, pay, withdraw cash, take the receipt, then leave.
After each money run, I'd burn all the evidence and hide my cash.
I had a good contingency plan for if a cashier asked for my ID. It was too expensive to get an ID for every card I planned to use once. So, I had my acting always ready to go.
"Can I see your ID?"
"Crap, that's my boyfriend's card, he's out in the car. We're just getting cash to pay the neighborhood kid who takes care of our lawn."
If the cashier asked me to go and get my "boyfriend", I'd leave the store and never come back. But they always bought the excuse. And apparently I play a gay guy pretty well. Who would've thought?
 
I know what you're probably thinking.
"God damn, Michael, get to the important parts! Blah, blah blah!"
I don't get to brag much about what I've done and how clever it was, so I'm taking my last opportunity before I'm probably shot. So fuck off.
During all of this, where it went on for three months without so much as a hiccup, I was doing other research.
I was making more money, but those needs came back again and I found myself needing more. How could I make money faster? I'd ask myself that all the time, and skim the darkweb for methods that would work for me.
That's when I turned to credit card fraud of the mail-in card variety. A new formula for making money right this second began to form.
I used a feature of the MailMan darkweb service to set up a mailing address that would forward all mail to me. Then, I went online and bought a few hundred sets of personal data that were probably hacked from some company's database.
Using this personal data, I signed up for three to four credit cards for each person. With those cards, I bought things online that I already intended to purchase for myself. Once the items arrived, I paid off the balance on the credit cards with my hard-earned money using prepaid cards that I bought with cash.
Then, after a month or two of using the card, I would withdraw $100 in cash at a store. And then I'd store the card in my hiding place, never to be used again.
If anyone ever looked at their credit reports and saw the credit card, it would look suspicious and odd, but would only be a $100 balance. They would, hopefully, just pay it off, close the card, and stop caring. Besides, my use of the card boosted their credit score. I paid the bills and fees on time, and kept the card open as long as I could afford, paying the yearly premium out of my own pocket. It was my way of saying thanks that they'd never hear.
You give me some money, I help you boost your credit score. A symbiotic relationship.
I even thought I'd earned the title of "ethical credit card scammer." No one, especially not the police, would see it that way, but that's how I justified my actions to myself.
My mistake came from not researching my "clients" before I used their identity and their card.
That's what got me caught.
But not by the police.
 
I'd gotten used to the current routine to the point where I could do it in my sleep. I was making good money, much better compared to before. I kept my job as a store manager, and it felt so much more fulfilling because I was making the money I needed overall, and had something to look forward to: the thrill of identity theft.
After some cautious planning, I rented out a nice, two-story duplex in one of my "client's" names and credit score. I kept my payments on-time and was the perfect tenant. The duplex's owner only did a soft pull on this client's credit, so it wouldn't show up on their credit report.
Regardless, I had a contact on the darkweb set up some monitoring for this identity online. He assured me that if anything went wacky with the credit that made it seem like the client was suspicious or investigating, I'd get a text. I wanted a heads up if I needed to ditch my place.
One month. It only took one month for them to find me. In the digital world, you would think one month was a long time, but it was too short for me. Too unexpected.
I was in bed, sleeping, when I heard the front door squeak open. My eyes shot open. A million fears and thoughts ran through my head. It didn't matter if it was just a thief or the FBI. Either way, the police would be involved, and I'd be caught.
I rolled out of bed silently. Watching my half-open bedroom door, I grabbed my sheets and spread them tight across my bed. I wanted to make it look like no one was home. Snatching my wallet and keys from the bedside table, I dropped to the ground and rolled under my bed. The boxes I kept under the bed for storage hid me from view once I arranged them.
Footsteps came up the stairs. I wished I'd thought to buy a gun. But buying a gun took heavy background checks, and I hadn't figured out how to bypass those yet.
Heavy boots tried to sneak down the hall. I saw two of them, one behind the other. Both black and menacing. They moved like they had training, but not much. From the way the floor bent under each step, they were both probably heavy around the belly.
The door opened as they entered the room. Upon seeing the empty bed, they paused, unsure of what to do next.
One of them whispered, loud enough that I could hear.
"Not home."
"So we wait."
I bit my lip and cursed internally. They were looking for me, whoever they were. Probably not cops: they wore jeans, not uniforms. They could be plainclothes, sure, but I just felt that they weren't cops.
I heard the front door squeak again, but the two men were too busy whispering to notice. I wondered if the door was just open in the wind.
My reply came in the form of a voice from the hall.
"Evening, fellas. Hands where I can see them."
Shit. A cop.
This guy's feet moved gracefully under him. Definitely trained.
Suddenly, the two men rushed the cop, and I watched him fall as they shoved their way past him. Through the dimness, I could see that it wasn't a cop at all. It was Jack, my neighbor across the street. He was ex-military, like me, though he'd been in the service a lot longer than I had.
I heard the front door fly open and slam shut as the two would-be thieves left the house. Jack stayed on the ground, sighing. He probably figured that pursuit wasn't worth the trouble.
I weighed my options before finally pushing boxes out of the way and crawling out from under the bed. Jack watched, surprised.
"You were under there the whole time?" He asked.
"They weren't here long, thanks to you."
Jack eyed my perfectly made bed, then where I'd crawled from.
"Smart tactic for hiding. I'll have to remember that one."
"Thanks."
We stood in the dark for a minute, feeling awkward for different reasons.
"Listen..." I said. "I'm grateful that you came and chased these assholes out, but can we not call the police? They didn't take anything, I'm not hurt, and I really don't want to deal with the hassle."
Jack chuckled. "I was about to ask you the same thing."
I looked at him in confusion. He lifted his gun, pointing it at the ceiling and showing it to me. It was a 92FS Beretta. Sleek, shiny, and well oiled.
"This girl here is illegal for me to have. I have a small rap sheet from before the military, but am still not allowed to own a gun of my own. So, I'm going to agree that we don't involve the cops."
"It's beautiful," I said, trying not to gasp from relief.
"She sure is," he grinned.
"Jack, thank you," I said, extending my hand.
"Any time," he said, shaking my hand.
 
I wondered for a few days about those thieves. There's no way they broke into my house by random chance. They were looking for me: they'd verbally confirmed that.
So who were they? Why did they want me?
I thought myself into dead end after dead end. There wasn't anything I could do until I had more information. And yet, I had no way to get more information.
I was stuck in limbo until they tried again, if they truly were looking for me, or until I could stop double checking my locks at night.
 
One night, as I lay in bed reading a book as usual, my phone rang. The duplex had actually come with a cordless phone system, which was humorous considering our cell-phone dominated world.
I answered it, not knowing who it was.
"Hello?"
"Hi, Neale. Listen, just wanted to give you a heads up. There's a weird car that's been parked outside my house for hours. People were lying down and taking a nap for a while, but perked up when you got home. Now they've got cameras aimed at your house. Don't come to the window and try to look, they'll see. I just wanted to call and tell you that before I go and talk to them."
What the hell. Breaking in is one thing, but now surveillance?
Who did they think I was?
Unfortunately, that was the question I should have pursued long before things got worse.
"Did you get their license plate?" I asked.
"And their make and model."
"Can I have it before you talk to them?"
"Sure," Jack said.
He gave me the info, and I told him I'd call him back in a bit. To his credit, Jack didn't even question what I was doing or why I wasn't freaking out and calling the cops.
I connected to Tor and sought out a darkweb site that had a backdoor into my state's DMV registration database. Only one or two states have those backdoors, and mine is one of them. Lucky for me.
I put in the license plate number and the results came back. I paid my $25 fee with the usual Bitcoin, and opened the word doc that came back.
Registered to one Charles B. Matsworth. With an address across the state from me. The database backdoor didn't transmit images, so I couldn't compare their driver's license photo with the people in the car. I was either dealing with Charles himself, or a stolen vehicle. Helpful, but also potentially not.
I hit up another darkweb site and searched for Charles. I paid my fee, then the results populated. Except there were no results. There were ALWAYS results, but this guy's name wasn't there. Which was impossible with this site. It passively picked up every name tossed around the internet and provided you with links to where it was mentioned.
But there were no results. Which means someone was actively scrubbing this guy's name from the web.
So, that's when I knew he was one of you, darkweb.
I hit redial on my home phone and got Jack back on the line. It was just past 11pm.
"Hey, Neale," he answered.
"Hey," I said, resisting the urge to peer through the blinds. "I can't look, obviously, but have you seen anything else helpful about them?"
Jack paused, probably looking out the window. "Passenger is a heavy smoker: there's a small pile of cigarette butts on his side and he's smoking one right now. They've got some Arby's wrappers on their front dash. Driver is using a telescopic lens on a pretty expensive camera. Canon, I think. Two coffee cups from a gas station in the cup holders. Car looks pretty new, just a little dust. If you took it through a car wash, it would probably shine. I'm guessing it's a new model."
I listened to him observe them, spouting off anything that he thought might be useful.
"Any of that help you out?" He asked.
"Maybe," I said, trying to think what I should do. Scare them off and let them know I'm onto them? Let them sit there and spy, hoping they don't decide to physically enter? Leave out the back? My bedroom light was on, so they knew I was home. My shadow had probably played against it a few times tonight too.
This was a situation I didn't have a contingency for.
"You should come over to my house. Sneak out around back, walk a block over, and come in through my back door," Jack said. "We can spy on the spies."
I considered it. Last time, we had scared off the thieves and not gotten any useful information. This was the most useful situation since that night. I should take advantage of it.
"Okay, I'll do that," I said. I gave him my mobile phone number so he could use that instead of the home phone.
I made my way to the back door and left, locking it behind me. Going straight back and over the back fence, I went to the next street over, then jogged three streets down to crawl through someone else's yard and into Jack's. He was waiting at the sliding glass door when I got there.
"No movement, they're still staring at the house and talking occasionally."
"Any idea what they're saying?" I asked, hopeful.
"Nope."
I walked into his living room, and found his setup. He had a pair of binoculars on a coffee table, and a few slats of his blinds were held open by paper clips.
"Have a look," he said, waving me into the room. "Need some water?"
"Yes, please," I said, picking up the binoculars.
Through the blinds, I saw the two men in their car, both heads turned towards my house. It was exactly as Jack had described. The streetlight was far away, so I couldn't make out hair colors, but one had longer hair than the other. That was about all I could make out.
Jack appeared beside me and set a glass of water on the table.
"Recognize them?" He asked.
"No," I muttered, setting down the binoculars.
"You in some kind of trouble, Neale? Borrow money from the wrong guys? Or are these just private investigators from your ex-wife trying to track you down for child support?"
Jack's tone was light and joking. He honestly didn't seem to give a shit what kind of trouble