Although the term, “identity theft” was only coined in the 1990s, the practice of fraudulently assuming the identity of another person has been around for a very long time, and has been used for a variety of reasons, some criminal and some that are just plain strange!
In one of the more bizarre recent instances of identity theft, a 33-year old mom from Green Bay, Wisconsin was charged with felony identity theft after enrolling in High School pretending to be her 15-year-old daughter. She claimed to have suffered from an unhappy childhood and wanted to regain a part of her life that she'd missed, joining the cheerleading squad, attending practices and even going to a pool party at the coach's house. The charade went unnoticed until the the $134.50 check she gave to the coach for her uniform bounced.
In the case of Private Richard J. Preskenis, a man who was killed in action at Quan Lai in Vietnam while serving with the 1st Battalion of the 7th Marines. Preskenis real name was actually William Joyce. Joyce had apparently had some “legal trouble” and was worried that he would be prevented from enlisting. He enlisted in the Marines under the name of an acquaintance that had attended the same high school, served for three years and was killed in action in 1966.
But perhaps the most strange case of all of a man assuming the identity of another person dates from 1943, and was actually a successful attempt to deceive the Germans into thinking that the planned Allied invasion of Sicily was actually aimed at Greece. Major William Martin, of the Royal Marines was killed in action in April and washed up on a beach in Spain, which was nominally neutral, but which sympathized with Berlin and was awash with German spies. Major Martin carried "top secret" documents giving details of Allied war plans indicating that any military move against Sicily was a “diversion” from the real attack which was to be against Sardinia, in Greece. Major Martin was actually a deceased Welsh alcoholic by the name of Glyndwr Michael, who had died in such a way that, when examined by the Germans it appeared that he had drowned. The deception was a complete success, and resulted in a major diversion of German strength away from Sicily, which was invaded by the Allies in July. “Major Martin” was later buried with full military honors in Spain. The real “Major Martin,” Glyndwr Michael is listed as a casualty on the war memorial in Aberbagoed, South Wales. The story of the deception, codenamed “Operation Mincemeat” was told in a 1953 book by Ewen Montagu and a 1956 World War II war film.