mobile-bannertablet-bannerdesktop-banner
150120_PB_IDTheft_16
Portrait of Jessamyn Lovell at San Francisco Camerawork Gallery, 2014.Lauren Kenward
150120_PB_IDTheft_16
150120_PB_IDTheft_2
150120_PB_IDTheft_1
150120_PB_IDTheft_3
150120_PB_IDTheft_4
150120_PB_IDTheft_7
150120_PB_IDTheft_8
150120_PB_IDTheft_10
Video footage of Jessamyn Lovell following Erin Hart, 2013.
150120_PB_IDTheft_12
150129_PB_IDTheft_Vid1
150120_PB_IDTheft_14
150120_PB_IDTheft_15
Portrait of Jessamyn Lovell at San Francisco Camerawork Gallery, 2014.
Lauren Kenward
1 of 13

The Woman Who Followed Her Identity Thief for Two Years

Feb 04, 2015

Jessamyn Lovell, of Albuquerque, has curly brown hair cut just above the shoulder.

Perhaps once, before she bleached it a brassy orange, Erin Hart, of San Francisco, had similar hair. But that's where the similarity ends.

Yet about five years ago, Erin Hart stole Lovell's identity, using Lovell's stolen ID cards to check into a San Francisco hotel. Lovell learned of the crime when the San Francisco police contacted her. Bills and citations soon started pouring in—presumably the result of Hart's spree, though Lovell can't definitively connect Hart to the three damaged cars rented in her name, parking tickets, and charges for petty theft and toll evasion.

MORE The One Foolproof Thing You Can Do to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Now Lovell, an artist, photographer, and college instructor, has turned the tables. After an arduous and expensive process of clearing her name, Lovell hired a private investigator, tracked down the woman they believe was Hart, and over a period of two years followed her, taking grainy, surveillance-style photos of her own identity thief.

Thirty-two of the resulting images, plus other documentation of her ordeal, were displayed last fall at the San Francisco Camerawork gallery—the same gallery, in fact, from which Lovell's wallet was stolen in 2011. (The photos and artifacts will also be published as book, "Dear Erin Hart," by San Francisco Camerawork later this month; and will be shown publicly again, at the Colorado Photographic Art Center in Denver, from February 26 through March 28.)

It may sound like Lovell gave Hart her just deserts. But the photographer describes her motivations differently. "I did not and do not intend to punish Erin Hart through my project," she says. "I just wanted to take my name back. And hopefully, it will make it harder for her to do what she has done, and caused her to see me as a person, not just a name on an ID."

Lovell attempted, via Hart's probation officer, to invite Hart to the opening, and even left a letter for her at the gallery. As far as Lovell knows, Hart never appeared. In December, Lovell heard from the probation officer that Hart may have become homeless.

MORE Here Are the Companies That Have Been Hacked — And What to Do

Lovell says she herself grew up poor and even now, as a lecturer at the University of New Mexico, "struggles to be in the middle class" while continuing to pay off the student loans she accrued getting a master's degree in fine arts. As a result, Lovell now expresses sympathy for the economic challenges Hart faces.

"With a criminal record, she will have an even harder time finding any kind of legitimate employment," Lovell says. "I think it's harder to pull yourself up by your bootstraps than people want to admit."

MORE 7 Ways to Keep Your Tax Refund Safe From Thieves

This is part of The Photo Bank, a recurring feature on Money.com dedicated to conceptually-driven photography. From images that document the broader economy to ones that explore more personal concerns like paying for college, travel, retirement, advancing your career, or even buying groceries, The Photo Bank showcases a spectrum of the best work being produced by emerging and established artists. Submissions are encouraged and should be sent to Sarina Finkelstein, Online Photo Editor for Money.com at sarina.finkelstein@timeinc.com.

Read next: I Ate Thanksgiving Dinner With My I.D. Thief for 19 Years

Listen to the most important stories of the day.

All products and services featured are based solely on editorial selection. MONEY may receive compensation for some links to products and services on this website.

Quotes delayed at least 15 minutes. Market data provided by Interactive Data. ETF and Mutual Fund data provided by Morningstar, Inc. Dow Jones Terms & Conditions: http://www.djindexes.com/mdsidx/html/tandc/indexestandcs.html. S&P Index data is the property of Chicago Mercantile Exchange Inc. and its licensors. All rights reserved. Terms & Conditions. Powered and implemented by Interactive Data Managed Solutions