Identity Theft: Not a Recommended Experience

One of my final assignments at a research company I worked for involved an epic road trip that went from Seattle, to L.A., to Miami and finally to Boston, over the course of a week. I facilitated a series of focus groups of small business owners to provide insights into their preferences for and usage of courier companies. Recruiting people for these panels was a nightmare, so we needed to have good enticements. We decided to give them limo transportation to a high end hotel, feed them a fancy lunch, run the focus group sessions, and finish with a cocktail reception with fancy snacks and nice swag to take home. At each hotel we booked two rooms: one for the lunch and reception, and one for the focus group sessions.

Everything went very well and the client was happy. We were very glad to finally get to Boston for the last leg of the trip. This session was held at the fancy Charles Hotel, near Harvard in downtown Boston. I had to leave the lunch slightly early to go to the room next door and make sure everything was in place. I took my cell phone to use as a clock, but left my knapsack with my laptop, wallet and passport in the lunch room (which at that point was still full of people). We were also going to be returning to the room as our cocktail venue after we were finished running the focus group.

We wrapped up and moved on to the reception. I looked for my knapsack where I had left it and it was gone. We searched the room and there was no sign of it. I was confident someone had moved it somewhere for safekeeping, but neither the caretakers of the room or the security folks had any knowledge of my stuff.

My most immediate concern was how I was going to get on a plane without any ID. I found the number for the Canadian consulate in Boston to see if I could get a copy of some pages of my passport. One of the few benefits of travelling a lot is that I had memorized my passport number. Even though it was rather late in the day, I did manage to get in touch with someone that would fax me my passport page. One small problem: the photo was completely black and the page would be no use as ID. I then went to the business centre and logged in to the internet to go to our company website, and printed out my bio and photo.

I went to the airport with my fingers crossed and somehow I managed to talk myself on to the plane. I guess they figured it would be Canada’s problem once I got there. When I got to Toronto, also thanks to being a frequent traveler, I was able to get across the border without having to speak to an agent by using the retina scanning kiosk. Now my only problem was how to get home without a credit card or any money for a cab, and if I did get home, how to get into my house without any keys.

Re-establishing your credentials is a delicate operation. First was the bank card and credit card, followed by the driver’s license, health card, and finally, passport. Replacing a stolen passport is harder than getting a new one. It requires a notarized affidavit where you swear it was stolen, provide complete details of the circumstances, get someone to vouch that you are in fact you, etc. I had to travel again in another week so I needed to take care of the passport in a hurry. I called a lawyer friend and insisted he meet me for lunch immediately to notarize my document, which luckily he agreed to do. He studied the form with some alarm about what he was signing, as if he was worried I had become an international jewel thief or spy and he would be disbarred for aiding and abetting.

The new passport arrived in time for my trip. About a month later, after I had bought a new wallet and filled it with my reclaimed plastic, a brown envelope arrived marked “Boston Postal Service”. Inside was my passport and wallet, with no money or credit cards, but with my driver’s license and health card intact. I now had repossession of the declared-stolen passport or the legal equivalent of kryptonite. Don’t tell anyone, but I still have it.