Memoir of a life under the shadow of identity theft.
Betz-Hamilton (Consumer Sciences/South Dakota State Univ.) grew up in the age before the internet, a time when it took considerable effort to assume another person’s identity and exercise financial fraud under those auspices. For a time, her mother was given to buying cheap, “pointless” jewelry from TV shopping channels, hiding the fact from her father, but she was seemingly normal compared to others in the family. Since the identity thief seemed to follow them wherever they traveled, moving often to stay a step ahead of creditors, taking pains to hide their whereabouts, it became evident that someone within the family was the author of the plot. Was it the grandmother who “had long ago stopped taking her insulin”? Grandma’s boyfriend, who made a career of sitting on the porch? Some other relative? The payoff, a financial version of the movie Halloween, is surprising indeed, and it opens onto a world of mental illness on the part of adults and a life of bewildered, anxious isolation on the part of a child who bore no blame in the matter. As the author writes, “recalling the phoneless house of my teenage years, I began to realize how especially damning it had been to lose that connection to the outside world.” Betz-Hamilton has since become a specialist on identity theft, and her notes on such matters as how debt is traded back and forth between credit card companies and collection agencies are revealing. Still, though the book is fairly short, it seems padded, and the writing is too often clunky: “There have been a few moments in my life when reality has skipped in front of me like a broken television”; “Grief waited like horses locked in a starting gate.” Given that identity theft and fraud are both commonplace and comparatively easy to fix these days, readers might find the memoir dated as well.
Though with an unexpected payoff, this is a tale in need of streamlining.