Emily Adam, 27, Darwin, NT
My stomach rumbled as I sat at my desk. Deciding to make a quick trip to the vending machine, I pulled out my handbag. But when I rifled through it, my wallet wasn't there. That's strange, I thought. I must've left it in the car. But it wasn't there either.
Returning to my desk, my co-worker, Taylie, then 20, noticed the puzzled look on my face. Telling her what had happened, I was confused. I'd never lost my wallet before. 'I'll help you look for it,' Taylie smiled reassuringly.
She'd started in the office where I worked as a court clerk about 11 months earlier, and we'd hit it off right away. Close in age and with similar interests, it wasn't long before we were spending time shopping, going to the movies and hanging out. We even looked a bit similar. But even with her help my wallet was nowhere to be found that day. Thinking I must have dropped it, I cancelled my Medicare and bank cards and went to get a new driver's licence.
About a week later, a strange letter arrived in the mail. It was from a loan company saying my repayment was overdue. Must be a mix-up, I thought, dismissing it. My car loan wasn't due for months.
But the following week another letter arrived and I mentioned it to Taylie. 'My sister's friend is a manager at that company,' she told me. 'I'll find out what's going on.' After making a few calls, she came back to me. 'Don't worry, they said the letters were sent to you by mistake,' she said.
It was a relief, but the following week, when I went to get petrol, my card was declined. Checking my account, I realised the same loan company had taken $436 from me. I was so confused. How did they even have my bank details?
I was so confused.
Telling Taylie, she quickly organised a meeting with the manager so I could sort things out. We were on our way to the meeting together when Taylie suddenly got a text from the manager, cancelling our appointment. 'I'm going to the branch to find out what's going on,' I told Taylie. 'I'll let you know how I go.' 'Okay,' she smiled. 'Good luck.'
The next day I went to the loan company's office with my mum, Pam. Showing them the letters I'd received by mistake, I was in for a huge shock. The company confirmed a loan had been taken out in my name - and gave me the file so I could see for myself.
Laid out before me were all my personal details, including my car registration number as well as copies of my driver's licence, healthcare card, pay slips and bank statements. But looking at the signature, it was clear something was wrong. 'That's not my handwriting,' I stammered, bursting into tears. Someone had stolen my identity. But who...?
'That's not my handwriting,' I stammered, bursting into tears.
'The woman looked just like you,' the teller told me, describing a slim lady with blonde hair and fair skin. 'She was wearing the same uniform as you too,' she said. My heart began to hammer. There was only one person who fitted that description. Taylie. But she was one of my closest mates. It just couldn't be her...
I made a statement to the police and the next day I was told Taylie had called in sick. Then my wallet and computer login details were found in her drawer - just metres from where I sat. It must be her!
Two days later, I still hadn't seen Taylie when I went online to check my account. I stared wide-eyed as I realised $950 had just been withdrawn from my savings. How could this be happening? I'd cancelled my cards.
Unable to work, I struggled with the betrayal and became depressed.
Calling the police, I went to the bank branch, where a teller confirmed a woman who identified herself as me had come in claiming her card wasn't working. After correctly answering a series of security questions, she'd been given the money and a temporary bank card before leaving. CCTV footage showed it was Taylie who'd entered the bank.
Soon after, I learnt Taylie had been arrested. I felt relieved but devastated too. I'd trusted her. How could she? Unable to work, I struggled with the betrayal and became depressed. I was confused too. If Taylie was struggling for money she should have told me and I would have tried to help.
Finally, six months later, in December 2009, Taylie Jade Sweeney, then 21, appeared at the Court of Summary Jurisdiction in Darwin where she pleaded guilty to eight offences, including stealing, unlawfully accessing data held in a computer and obtaining a benefit by deception.
The court heard how Taylie had taken my wallet when I was away from the desk. She'd then used my login details to access my computer and print three of my pay slips before using my identification and forging my signature so she could be approved for a $615 personal loan.
Two weeks later, she went to a bank branch and impersonated me in order to withdraw the $950 from my account. Because the loan repayments had been set up to come out of my account, in total I'd had $1606 removed without my consent.
While Taylie was initially sentenced to 18 months imprisonment, it was reduced on appeal to 10 months, suspended after two weeks. I was just thankful she'd been held accountable. I did receive a letter of apology from Taylie, but after what she did, I struggle to trust anything she says. While I've moved on I'm still affected by what happened and I'm much more cautious about safeguarding my personal information.
I'm sharing my story to warn others. Identity theft can happen to anyone. I'm proof of that.
Reduce your risk of identity theft
- Destroy unwanted bills and statements with a shredder.
- Secure your mailbox with a lock, and redirect mail if you move.
- Be cautious about what you publish on social media and online and regularly change your passwords.
- Be alert for unusual bank transactions or missing mail.
- Visit Australia and New Zealand's Identity Theft Support Centre at www.idcare.org