|Friday, November 1
Updated: November 8, 2:25 PM ET
Messing with the Law
By Darren Rovell
New England Patriots cornerback Ty Law, like most professional athletes who earn a good living, admits he occasionally has trouble keeping track of where all his money goes. But during a routine withdrawal from an ATM, Law did a double take at the receipt in his hand.
Law didn't, but it turned out that someone who pretended to be him did. Not once, but twice.
It was later learned that Law was one of several professional athletes and Hollywood celebrities, including actor/rapper Will Smith, who had been targeted by an identity theft ring. They hit Law's bank account for two withdrawals totaling $20,000.
"A high-profile person is probably the last person these criminals should take advantage of," said Don Coker, a bank fraud consultant who has testified in the prosecutions of at least 20 identity theft cases. "The whole idea is to take someone's persona who doesn't appear on television or in newspapers and magazines."
Coker may be underestimating the resolve of criminals and overestimating how recognizable athletes really are when off the field of play.
On May 4, 2001, one week to the day that Anthony Lemar Taylor, the Tiger Woods impersonator, was sentenced to 200 years to life under California's "third strike" penalty, Jonathan Hoskins was getting his picture taken at a Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Ohio. It was there that he presented a copy of Ty Law's birth certificate, as well as a printout of Law's Social Security number, said Kevin Sferra, an investigator with the BMV.
Three weeks later, with the driver's license in hand, Hoskins entered a Pennsylvania bank and made two $10,000 withdrawals from one of Law's bank accounts. Following the transaction, Hoskins even hung around to take pictures and sign autographs as Ty Law.
A week after police began monitoring Law's account, they noticed suspicious activity outside a bank in Ellicott City, Md., and later busted Hoskins as he allegedly attempted to withdraw $500 from the bank account of Washington Redskins linebacker Kevin Mitchell using another Ohio driver's license.
Investigators with the Bureau of Motor Vehicles in Ohio and NFL security officials helped put the two crimes together.
"I think football players are more targets than anybody -- or would be, if I had that type of mindset," Law said. "Everybody doesn't know what we look like because we're always on the sideline or we're always behind that facemask."
Investigators are still unclear how Hoskins and his cohorts discovered Law and Mitchell's account information.
"They knew more about my bank and my account than I did," Law said.
Hoskins, who was sentenced to one year in prison, is scheduled to be released in late December.
Darren Rovell, who covers sports business for ESPN.com, can be reached at Darren.firstname.lastname@example.org.