Identity Theft Is a “Kafkaesque” Nightmare. AI Makes It Way Worse.

This is the story of William Woods. No, not the fake William Woods. The real William Woods. It’s a story that traverses more than three decades, zigzagging from a hot dog stand to a jail with a stop at a mental institution and ending with—well, you.

It all began 36 years ago in the sun-drenched streets of Albuquerque, where William Woods was working at a hot dog stand, serving office workers and city dwellers. On an otherwise unremarkable day, his coworker—a large man with dark hair named Matthew Keirans—stole Woods’s wallet. With it, Keirans pilfered not just Woods’s Social Security number but eventually his entire identity. The theft was the seed of an existential usurpation and the beginning of a Kafkaesque nightmare for William Woods. That’s because Keirans had decided to become William Woods to escape his own troubled past. By 1990, Keirans had used the Social Security number to obtain a Colorado ID in Woods’s name; he then opened a bank account (also in Woods’s name) and wrote some checks that later bounced, according to court documents.

This is where reality broke in two. Keirans decided he would straighten out his life, and after stops in Idaho and Oregon, marriage and the birth of a son, he settled in Wisconsin. Within a year, he got a job working in IT for the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, where he made more than $100,00 a year. He bought a house and two cars, and lived a version of the American dream—albeit a slightly different one. He lived all of it as William Woods.

Meanwhile, about 2,000 miles away, the real William Woods’s life was on a very different track. He ended up homeless, living on the unforgiving streets of Los Angeles, doing odd jobs and selling scraps of metal to get by. After almost three decades, he finally discovered what had happened: that Keirans had stolen his identity and was living as him. Woods learned that Keirans maintained deposits at a national bank with a branch in Los Angeles, having used Woods’s name, Social Security number, and date of birth to accumulate eight loans from credit unions totaling more than $200,000, according to the US Attorney’s Office in the Northern District of Iowa. Seeking to reclaim his identity and not wanting to pay the debt, Woods explained to a branch manager that he was actually William Woods and demanded that the accounts opened in his name be closed. But when the manager called the number on file, Keirans answered and said that the man standing in the bank branch was actually Matthew Keirans, who had stolen his identity, and that the bank should call the police. When the cops showed up, they arrested Woods and held him without bail at the Los Angeles County Jail. The charge: identity theft and false impersonation. In other words, he was charged with saying he was William Woods.

Throughout the legal proceedings, Woods maintained that he was William Woods, not Matthew Keirans. But the Los Angeles judge didn’t believe him, and sent Woods to jail for 428 days. When he finally got out and was brought before the judge again, Woods still refused to declare that he was Matthew Keirans; the judge declared him mentally unfit for trial and sent him to a California mental hospital where he was treated with psychotropic drugs and other therapies, and held for 147 days, stuck in the limbo of the psych ward, his reality dismissed as delusion, according to court records. Woods was finally allowed to leave the hospital on one condition: that he plead no contest and admit that he was Matthew Keirans.

In January 2023, Woods found out where Keirans worked and contacted security at the University of Iowa Hospitals and Clinics, which forwarded his concerns to the University of Iowa police. Ian Mallory, a UI police detective, appeared to be the first to believe Woods. He pulled Woods’s birth certificate, then gave his father a DNA test, and then tested Woods, finally proving that William Woods was who he said he was. When Mallory approached Keirans with the irrefutable evidence, he knew it was game over. “My life is over,” he later said, according to court records. Keirans pleaded guilty and was convicted on one count of making a false statement to a National Credit Union Administration insured institution to obtain a loan, and one count of aggravated identity theft. He now faces up to 32 years in prison, a fine that could reach $1.25 million, and five years of supervised release following any imprisonment, according to the US Attorney’s Office in Iowa’s Northern District.

Originally Appeared Here

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About the Author: Rayne Chancer