Monday, July 23, 2007

Did I Ever Tell Ya About the Time I Had My Identity Stolen?

I recently polled readers and asked if any of them had been a victim of identity theft. I got a huge NO. Although some knew someone who had been a victim, they had not been themselves. I am very glad that for most of you identity theft has just been something you have heard of or read about. For me, it became a frightening reality in December of 2003.

I was the victim of a burglary and my purse was stolen. Luckily my debit card was in my possession, but the thief did get a credit card (which looked like a debit card) , a full book of checks, my driver’s license, and social security card. Let me take a very quick break and say NEVER EVER carry your social security card on your person unless you KNOW you will need it. It is not a necessary piece of identification and it is VERY tedious to get it replaced.

So, what were my first actions? While my husband notified the police (and he is an officer himself), I called my credit card company. I have a card that looks like a debit card because it is issued by my credit union. I had the option of setting up a PIN for it, but never did because I did not want the option of cash advances. When I called the company, the thieves were actually trying to get my card to give them money from an ATM. They had already tried it 30 times in 4 different ATM’s in the hour since it had been stolen. They were pretty smart. They would only go to ATM’s that allowed you to swipe the card so it would not be confiscated. However, the representative told me that it was locked after three unsuccessful attempts. It kind of made me feel good that they were wasting their time.

The next day I called out sick at work and went to the bank as soon as it opened to cancel my checks. Unfortunately, they felt that was not enough since the thieves had so much of my information. I had to close an account I had opened when I was 13 years old and get a new one with a new number, etc.

I thought that was enough. I thought I had done everything I could do to make this nightmare stop, but I was wrong. A few days after I closed the account, I began getting letters from Wal-Mart, and even a call from a lawyer representing a local restaurant asking me to make good on my bad checks. Everyday after that I would open the mailbox to 5 or 6 angry letters. Well, I began to get angry.

The cops had no leads, and I began to think these jerks were going to get away with it. I had gotten a list of the ATM’s that my card was tried at. I started calling banks and asking if I could have them send the security tapes to the police. They said they would only do so if the police requested it. As soon as the bad checks had been processed by my bank I went down and got copies. I can’t tell you how unnerving it is to see your signature in someone else’s handwriting. I broke down in tears in the middle of the bank. Then I got even more angry.

I called Wal-Mart and asked if THEY could pull some security tape. They said YES! I gave them some codes that had been on the back of my checks. They said their security guard would look at the footage and be on the lookout for the people in the video. My husband KNEW the head of their security. He was a reserve officer with the same police department. He looked at the footage and RECOGNIZED the thieves, a male and female, as a couple who frequented the Wal-Mart. Now it was all a waiting game.

On December 24, 2003, Mr. and Mrs. Identity Theft were seen in the store. They went around and shopped for quite a while (actually buying Christmas gifts) When they got to the register, Mrs. IT pulled out my checkbook and used my last check to “try” to purchase the merchandise. When she handed the check to the cashier, my husband’s friend told her she would have to come with him. They were arrested on Christmas EVE! The male was release that night, but the female (the one who had been forging my name) was not released until Christmas afternoon. I told my husband even if they didn’t serve another day in jail THAT had given me the retribution I felt I needed.

Well, the male was not charged in a deal that got my husband his off-duty weapon back (he had stolen that in the burglary also). The female was charged with felony forgery and finished serving her 1 month sentence on my husband’s birthday last year. (she was actually in jail for Christmas again) Had I not been so active in looking for these goons they might have gotten away with it. If you are ever the victim of identity theft here are some tips to help you:

  • Call all credit card companies immediately.

  • Cancel any checks that you are sure they got away with, if you are not sure your bank can help you determine what you should do.

  • Work with law enforcement. Give them any store codes off the back of checks or any information from the ATM’s at which your cards were used. Your bank or credit card company will have this info but they probably will not immediately share it with the police.

  • Also remember the police have other cases that may be more pressing. Normally what will happen is your case will be assigned to an investigator who will get to it when he/she can. The more work you can HELP them do the better. In my case if I had not done it, they would not have been caught because they had run out of checks.

  • If you feel your social security number has been compromised call one of the credit reporting agencies and put a fraud alert on your card. It is an automated process that takes minutes plus they send you a free credit report.

Here are some tips to KEEP you from being a victim in the first place-

  • Carry minimal ID- only your driver’s license if possible.

  • If your state uses social security numbers for DL numbers have them change it (my state still does this and I am going to have it changed when it comes up for renewal again)

  • DO NOT carry your SS card for any reason. You only need it when filling out paperwork after getting a new job or registering for school as far as I know. Take it with you only when you need it.

  • Keep credit cards at home. You shouldn’t be using them anyway, but if you need to only carry them to the store and back home. Hey this tip will even keep you from impulse purchases. Kill two birds with one stone.

I hope none of my readers ever has to deal with this, but if you do, just remember it isn't the end of the world. Consumers have much better protection against this kind of thing now.

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