Imagine you learn your husband (or wife) of 25 years is really a different person. That’s what happened to Mary Hickman—25 years after she married a man who had identified himself all those years back as Terry Jude Symansky. The Florida couple had a son and lead an uneventful life, with Symansky working different jobs and even acquiring a pilot’s license.

11DIn actuality, Symansky was really Richard Hoagland, who’d been married twice before, who had lived in Indiana and then mysteriously disappeared and was eventually presumed dead. He had stolen the real Terry Jude Symansky’s identity and got away with this for 25 years—until he was busted by Symansky’s nephew.

The nephew learned of the identity theft, something he never even suspected, via Ancestry.com. He reported this to the police, who then alerted Hickman.

Hickman subsequently came upon documents in the attic proving that her husband was an imposter of a man who had died in 1991 in a drowning accident. Hoagland, 63, was arrested.

So why had he vanished from Indiana? There, he’d had four kids with two wives. He had wanted to get away from one of the wives, so he up and left, though he told her it was because the FBI wanted him for the theft of millions of dollars—a claim that has yet to be substantiated.

How did Hoagland steal Symansky’s identity in the first place? It certainly helped that he had once been living with the dead man’s father, where he had found a copy of Symansky’s death certificate. He had used this document to get a birth certificate, and armed with that, he was on his way to assuming the identify of a man who had never even been married nor had any kids—which had made it even easier for Hoagland to pull off his caper.

We can probably thank those Ancestry.com commercials for causing the chain of events that led up to the crook’s arrest.

Robert Siciliano CEO of IDTheftSecurity.com, personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of 99 Things You Wish You Knew Before Your Identity Was Stolen. See him knock’em dead in this identity theft prevention video.

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