May 26, 2024

Columbus Post

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Identity Theft: The Cairns lived as William Woods for decades


AmericaKieran steals someone else's identity – with fatal consequences

An identity thief can live another man's life for decades. Because of his behavior, the victim was imprisoned several times and became homeless.

Simon Misteli
  • An encounter at a hot dog stand ends up in an American mental institution.

  • Over the decades, Cairns adopted Woods' identity in many aspects of his life.

  • Woods fought the identity theft, but he wasn't convinced — and instead he ended up in jail and a mental hospital.

In 1988, William Donald Woods met Matthew David Cairns at a hot dog stand. But little did the American know that it would ruin his life for decades to come.

Because two years after the meeting, Cairns was able to obtain an identification card from the state of Colorado in Wood's name. It started a wave of identity theft that spanned decades and defrauded banks, police and judges.

Jobs, accounts and driver's license under false name

Cairns was able to obtain Woods' social security number and birth certificate. He was also able to obtain insurance, a bank account and a driver's license in the victim's name. Woods also worked on several jobs under the name.

Fortunately, the story ended well for the victim on April 1, 2024. Identity thief Cairns (58) pleaded guilty and pleaded guilty to all counts. Until things got that far, Woods struggled as a tormented man for years.

Psychiatric hospital because no one believed

Over the years, Cairns accumulated $130,000 in debt in Woods' name. In 2019, Woods, who was living homeless in Los Angeles due to debt, tried to fight identity theft. He wanted to close bank accounts and clarify to the bank that his identity had been stolen.

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Unfortunately, he could not answer the bank's security questions. Cairns was able to do this without any problems. After a brief police investigation, the real Woods was indicted and charged with identity theft.

His attorney argued that he was mentally retarded because he insisted during the trial that he was the real Woods. In 2020, the court sentenced Woods to stay in a psychiatric hospital. At that time, he had already spent 400 days in jail due to issues related to his identity.

Happy End Thank you DNA-test

When the real Woods was released from a psychiatric hospital in 2021, he resumed his struggle for identity. He found Cairns, Iowa, where he worked as a woodsman at University Hospital. The real Woods informed the hospital about the mistaken identity, and they launched an internal investigation. Cairns defended himself against prosecution. The police were called back.

According to court documents, Cairns told the investigating commissioner that he doubted the officer could get to the bottom of the matter because no one else had.

But the inspector did not walk away from the case so easily. He compared his father's DNA to that of the real Woods.

Fraudsters face prison terms and millions in fines

Confronted by the evidence, Cairns admitted to the fraud and revealed that he had used to obtain Woods' birth certificate. Kieran's sentence has not yet been officially announced, but he will spend at least two years in prison and must pay a $1.25 million fine.