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October 26, 2017 / mws

Identity Theft

It was just a regular Friday night.  My husband and I were getting ready to watch TV and I decided to check my email one more time.  FRAUD ALERT!!!  My bank sent me an urgent alert email that “someone had requested a new credit card and wanted it mailed to a different address!

I immediately called the bank and told them about the email alert.  A customer service rep told me that a female caller had told them she was travelling and her card was damaged.  She identified herself as me, gave my date of birth and my social security number.  So that is all that is required by phone to send out a new card to a different address!!!

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My head started pounding and I broke out in a cold sweat!  I was transferred to the bank fraud department at that point and they immediately cancelled my credit card. Fortunately, the large charge on my card made by the thief had been recognized as “questionable” and placed on hold.  A new card was issued to me, but in the meantime, I had no credit card.  The bank fraud department was giving me guidance about what to do next, but I really wasn’t comprehending much.  I did place a 90 day fraud alert with the three major credit bureaus within an hour of getting the email.

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Online research is something I do frequently, so I found identitytheft.gov.  There was so much information that I felt overwhelmed.  The website operated by the Federal Trade Commission, listed three major steps to go forward after identity theft.   1. Explain what happened  2. Get a Recovery Plan  3. Put your plan into action

In step one, I went through the online process to report the identity theft. A form is provided to list contact information, make a personal statement about the theft, and list the details.  This action creates an official FTC Report to prove to businesses and credit bureaus that you have been a victim of identity theft.

Step two (Get a Recovery Plan) and Step three (Put your Plan into Action) kind of morphed together. It was suggested that a report be filed with my local police department.  So, I tried to locate a phone number for our local police.  Since it was a weekend, there was no one in the office.  On their website, it stated that it was okay to call 911 for a none emergency if the office was unstaffed.  It was strange calling 911, a first time experience for me.  The 911 operator asked me several questions and said that an officer would be at my home sometime that day.

Less than an hour later a friendly, kind police officer showed up.  He asked about the details and gave me more information about ID theft and steps I could take for recovery.  The officer informed me that Identity Theft was becoming very common and it was difficult, if not impossible, for local police departments to catch a culprit. I was surprised, when, the next day, the officer stopped by again.  He had tried to research the location of the credit card delivery.  It was a personal residence about a thousand miles away. However, since the credit card was shipped through Fed Ex, the thief was likely waiting for the delivery and the residents at the delivery address may not even have been aware that it occurred.

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A few years ago, I enrolled in a major Identity Protection service.  This service sent me an alert about my credit card issue at the same time I got the email from my bank.  I have to admit that I was initially naïve about any service that provides Identity Protection.  While I still believe that it is a worthwhile service, it is NOT Identity Protection.  THERE IS NO SERVICE THAT CAN PREVENT IDENTITY THEFT!!

What my ID theft Service provided was ongoing and constant scanning of my personal details. Every minute of every day, they search for threats to my personal information.  Alerts are received immediately if they find any information that includes my personal details.  This includes credit cards, bank accounts, court records, address changes, and loans.  The Identity Theft service also provides a lot of information about how to keep my personal details safe on my phone, computer and at my bank.

So I called my Identity Theft Protection service to see what they could do to help me.  I was assigned to a U.S. based specialist and assigned a case number.  This action would let me work with the same specialist each time I called.  I was advised to take one of two actions at this point.  1. Freeze my credit or   2. Place an Extended Credit Alert.

I research both options online and both require contacting the 3 major credit bureaus individually.  I tried to go online and the first credit bureau wanted payment before I could proceed.  The second credit bureau’s website was confusing and timed out on me.  I should say that the second one was Equifax.  Since my identity theft occurred during the major breach at Equifax, this was not surprising.  At this point, I was frustrated and tired of attempting to carry out this part of my action plan.

I called my Identity Theft Protection Service (ITPS) again.  My specialist created a conference call with a representative from Trans Union.  After clarifying my identity, the Trans Union agent said that he would take care of my request with all three credit bureaus.  Yay!  Progress!  I was surprised that one agent could accomplish this with all three credit bureaus.  My ITPS specialist informed me they have set up this service exclusively for members.  A few days later, I received letters from all three credit bureaus verifying my transactions.

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Many nights I had difficulty sleeping during this recovery process.  When I got awake, I started thinking about my credit card payments online and my automatic payments that were directed to my credit card.  I spent a lot of time going through my credit card statements to determine what payments needed to be addressed.

The initial alert occurred on a Friday night and I don’t consider that to be accidental timing.  When I first spoke with my bank, they said it would take 3-5 business days for me to receive my new credit card.  So, of course, it took 5 business days!  I received the card the following Friday.  During that time, there were a few automatic payments that could not occur. I made phone calls to the businesses that did not yet have my new credit card number and all were very cooperative.  Online action was required to update my future automatic payments.

Another action I was advised to take was to contact any bank where I had accounts. It was interesting to see how the different banks handled this ID Theft.  All of the banks added additional security to my accounts in some format.  At one of my banks, I now have to give a verbal password for each visit…I like this.

Naturally, I would like to know how this Identity Theft occurred.  I am told that I will probably never know, for sure. When the Equifax breach occurred, I checked online at the Equifax website and their information told me that it was “unlikely” that I was included in the breach.  However, I looked back at my personal records and found a store credit card that I had opened in the last year.  It is my understanding that each retail store uses one of the 3 major credit bureaus for credit checks. The store where I opened the most recent credit card used Equifax.  It is possible that I was involved in the Equifax breach, but it could also have happened through some other means.

Throughout this process, I have learned to become more vigilant with information. Even though I have taken steps to recover from this one incident, there may be other concerns in the future. My research indicates that approximately 15 million United States residents have their identities used falsely each year. Identity theft is becoming the most frequent, costly and widespread crime in the United States.

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NOTE:  During the one week I was without a credit card, I was transformed back in time!  I used cash a few places and  I paid by check at the grocery store.  After the check transaction, the cashier handed my check back to me.  That was new!! Apparently, stores no longer carry your check to the bank in the “green money bag” but process your check electronically.  I liked that, but then I wondered if it was safer or less safe!  So much has  changed in this world in the last ten years!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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