"Guy in the black robe indicates you", via Artranq, ThinkStock.
"Guy in the black robe indicates you", via Artranq, ThinkStock.
“Guy in the black robe indicates you”, via Artranq, ThinkStock.

Identity theft can happen to anyone, anywhere—and under an almost endless array of circumstances.

Every year, various organizations like the Federal Trade Commission, Javelin, Gartner, Ponemon Institute, Pew and others issue reports that cite an array of victim counts anywhere from 9 million to 15 million Americans per year.

Why the variance? Well, aside from various designations and inarticulate categorizations among federal and state jurisdictions, or unwillingness or inability on the part of law enforcement authorities to investigate or prosecute due to lack of resources, a significant percentage of victims refuse to report the crime due to the complex nature of inter-personal relationships.

Take, for example, the recent incident where the senior pastor of a Florida church allegedly racked up $17,400 in credit card debt in the name of a member of his flock.

According to detectives in the Pasco County Sheriff’s Office, the New Hope Alliance Church in Land O’Lakes, Florida, received an e-mail in June 2010 regarding a delinquent Fifth Third Bank account in the name, but without the knowledge, of a church elder.

As reported in the St. Petersburg Times, a Detective of the Sheriff’s Office Economic Crimes Unit investigated the matter and determined that senior pastor Bruce Stutzman had opened the credit card account in January 2009 in the elder’s name and that he paid personal utility bills, made store purchases and wrote a series of convenience checks withdrawing thousands of dollars in cash advances.

The investigators allege that Stutzman used $3,400 in church funds to pay on the bogus account.

According to authorities, Stutzman confessed and surrendered to authorities pursuant to a warrant for fraudulent use of personal information. He was released on $5,000 bail.

The Times reports that the church has declined to press charges involving the theft of church funds. I find this incomprehensible and I am hopeful he will face charges on the fraudulent account activity.

This is a case in which a type of familial identity theft was reported. However, every year hundreds of thousands are not, due to the nature of these types of relationships—especially when parents, children, siblings, other family members, friends and personal authority figures are involved. This is why we will likely never get a complete picture of the sheer magnitude of the epidemic.

Originally posted at Credit.com.