Educating consumers and businesses for nearly 10 years, I have been disappointed over the public’s lack of understanding of identity theft. “Identity Thief,” a comedy movie, may be the enlightening experience that raises public awareness of what identity theft is and how it can touch their life.
"Identity Thief" is about Sandy Bigelow Patterson (Jason Bateman), an average family man, who is victimized by sociopath Diana (Melissa McCarthy) a survivor abandoned at birth.
An opening scene illustrates social engineering where Sandy in Denver, Colorado receives what sounds like an official telephone call from a credit agent (Diana) alerting him that he has become the victim of identity theft. Diana, calling from Orlando, Florida, easily hoodwinks her victim into giving up the “Holy Trinity”— his full name, date of birth and Social Security number.
Diana becomes Sandy Bigelow Patterson.
Diana obtains a driver’s license and credit cards in Sandy’s name, committing government identification fraud and credit card fraud. Sandy (Diana) goes on a spending and a party spree in Florida, and she is arrested and booked for public intoxication in Sandy’s name. As any identity thief arrested under an alias and released on bail would do, Sandy does not show up her preliminary hearing in court. The court issues a warrant for Sandy’s arrest.
In Denver, the real Sandy is beginning to experience the clues of credit card fraud when he learns he exceeded his credit card limit, and a cashier confiscates and destroys his credit card under instruction from the credit card company. A few blocks later, Sandy is stopped by the police and arrested on a warrant for not showing up in the Florida court.
Sandy tries to rationalize with doubtful Detective Reilly (Morris Chestnut), who is less than sympathetic to Sandy’s cry, “it’s not me!” Within minutes, detectives obtain the arrest mug shot of Sandy Bigelow Patterson from the Florida law enforcement agency proving that the real Sandy appears to be a victim of criminal identity theft by a woman imposter.
Unfortunately, for real-world victims of identity theft, the process of a law enforcement agency obtaining an arrest mug shot in short order to confirm or disprove a suspect's identity can take days, weeks, and even months while the victim awaits the verdict in jail. Fortunately, for Sandy, he lives in movie land.
As Sandy leaves the police station, disobliging Detective Reilly suggests that the mess is going to take a year or so for him to clear up because of the different jurisdictions involved in where the identity theft crimes were committed. In the real world, it is common for victims to describe unending problems over a period of years, if not a lifetime.
Life is about to get worse for Sandy.
Diana is involved deeply in identity theft and traffiking stolen and fake identification. Her antagonists include members of organized crime connected to the trade of narcotics. It is not too long before the Denver police learn about and assume Sandy is involved in a larger narcotics scheme. (Identity theft has been linked with organized crime, narcotics, terrorism and many other crimes.)
Sandy’s new business partner and boss, Daniel Casey (John Cho), the president of an upscale Denver financial services start-up firm is learning that Sandy has been arrested on charges of fraud, through complaints he been receiving from customers that have been watching the news and by doing a background check on Sandy. Then the police show up at the office to arrest Sandy and search the offices for drugs. They don’t find anything.
Sandy’s new job and his ability to support his wife Trish (Amanda Peet), two children and an unborn is in jeopardy. The family is also beginning to experience the effects of dad’s identity theft with bill collectors calling the home and the cable TV being turned off because of credit problems.
Sandy pleads with his boss to give him time to resolve the issue and prove his innocence. Daniel gives Sandy 10 days to clear up the mess and restore his good name or he’s out on the street. This is a task that a superhuman, sleuth, legal-mastermind would be challenged to complete in 365 days. Sandy takes the challenge.
The comedic adventure is on as Sandy nabs Sandy in Florida, and he journeys back with her to Denver to offer a confession to his boss that she committed identity theft and Sandy is innocent. The movie’s identity theft awareness training is all but over as more consequences of identity theft victimization arise during the trek from Orlando to Denver.
The pair of Sandy’s is challenged along the way with identity issues when planning to board an airplane, with the challenge of obtaining finances with no credit, and with being pursued by a skiptracer/bounty hunter, organized crime enforcers and the police.
In one scene, the couple, down and out, is passing through St. Louis. For survival, the real Sandy has an idea to take advantage of a former employer that has a branch office in that city. He schemes with Diana, and they use a social engineering ploy to steal the identity and financial information of his former boss that is stored in the St. Louis office. These scenes expose the vulnerability of personal-identifiable information that is held by employers and many other organizations. Privacy and information security breaches are chronic problems today, and "Identity Thief" illustrates the theft of both paper and electronic information. Hundreds of millions of personal records have been breached since 2005.
From the theft of his former boss's identity, Sandy regains his wherewithal to complete the trip to Denver, but not before an encounter with all the antagonists.
Sandy and Diana finally escape to Denver, but Sandy is having second thoughts about turning Diana over to the police when he gets to Denver. He just wants his good name restored.
In Denver, Diana does the unexpected that allows Sandy to regain his family, his career, and his good name. The ending reveals that the orphaned Diana, to her surprise, was born Dawn Budgie in town of Morganville, Wisconsin―a truly fictitious Wisconsin town.
Throughout the "Identity Thief" movie one observes the myriad legal issues that an identity theft victim may face including: unfair debt collection practices, employment-related issues including termination, arrests made on mistaken identity, the need to have criminal and court records expunged by experienced attorneys, and naturally the need to have one’s good name and credit history restored.
"Identity Thief" was directed by Seth Gordon (‘Horrible Bosses’) and produced by Scott Stuber (Ted) and Pamela Abdy (upcoming 47 Ronin). Like Ted, the comedy movie "Identity Thief" is predominated by coarse and suggestive language and scenes. The “R Rating” requires those under 17 to be accompanied by a parent or adult guardian because of the sexual content and language used in the movie. I noticed one father in the theatre holding his hands over the eyes of his pre-teen daughter during at least one scene. While I found the movie hilarious, I wouldn’t bring a child or preteen and would cautiously consider bringing a teenager.
The funny John Cleese Training Videos have brought learning through humor to business management education for two decades. I am hopeful that the comedy "Identity Thief" will raise the public’s consciousness about identity theft and why they should be concerned about preventing it. On the other hand, moviegoers may conclude that identity theft is still a laughing matter.