[SiH] On a Personal Note: What I’ve Learned About Identity Theft

Success in Harmony

November 2004 – Vol. I, Issue 6

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On a Personal Note: What I’ve Learned About Identity Theft

If you’re a regular subscriber, you’ll notice that I swapped my Personal Note section with my Feature Article section (as well as swapped the length) for this issue. It seemed a little out of place to make this article my “Feature,” considering that it’s a little different than what we usually cover in Success in Harmony. However, I had a lot to share about this topic this month! I hope you find it helpful.

It can happen to anyone! A week ago, we received a call from our credit card company to “confirm recent activity” on our Visa. Someone had started charging to our account in South Carolina—and we’re in Utah!

We both had our credit cards in our possession. We shred all papers with credit card applications, Social Security numbers, financial account numbers, etc. We take envelopes that have personal checks in them to the public mailbox rather than putting them in our personal mailbox for the US Postal Service to pick up. We thought we were protecting ourselves sufficiently. But here’s the thing—like most of you, we shop online!

We suspect that someone had hacked into a merchant’s site where we had made a purchase and “skimmed” our credit card information and then created a credit card. A popular tactic is to create a counterfeit credit card with your number and then create a counterfeit ID to match. It looks legitimate, so it is accepted by merchants. Our thief was able to charge purchases at WalMart and Best Buy in Spartanburg, South Carolina. It’s interesting—both purchases were in the amount of $800-something, and an attempted charge the next day was for $800-something. Luckily, we were notified quickly and were able to shut down the account before further purchases were made.

We weren’t sure what steps to take, so since then I’ve been finding out and I thought I’d share what I’ve learned with my readers.

Here’s what to do if you suspect you’ve been a victim or are about to become a victim of identity theft:

  • Immediately contact the credit card company or companies and close your credit card account(s). Change your PIN to your bank account if your credit card is attached to your bank account.
  • Immediately call one of the three credit reporting agencies and place a fraud alert on your credit reports. The major credit reporting agencies are TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax.

    As a courtesy, if you notify one, they’ll notify the other two. All three will then send you your credit report so you can check it over. A 90-day fraud alert does not require any proof that you were a victim and can be placed at any time. The fraud alert requires that you be contacted by any credit provider if any credit is applied for in your name. It also opts you out of any pre-approved credit card offers.

    NOTE: If more than one person uses your credit card to make purchases, don’t forget to put a fraud alert on each person’s credit report.

  • Begin to create a log of all actions you take and all phone calls you make. Include the phone number you called, date and time of phone call, the person you spoke with, a note of the conversation and any pertinent information, what actions were taken, and any next steps.
  • Contact credit providers. Get all the information you can about any credit card charges that were made or credit that was applied for with your information. Find out these details: merchant name, location (street address if available, but at least city and state), merchant phone number, store number if available and if merchant has multiple locations, date and time (helpful if law enforcement agencies go back to surveillance tape), and anything else the credit provider can tell you. Even if it seems irrelevant, make a record of it. You may find you need it.
  • Find out what forms you need to file to dispute credit card charges or other debt that has been incurred in your name. You may need the law enforcement report (see the next step).
  • Contact law enforcement, even if you’re not sure whose jurisdiction it will be in. You’ll want to get an ID Theft Report on file and get a copy of the report or the report number. If credit card charges went through in a specific location, call the law enforcement agency in that area and give them all the information. They’ll usually assign an investigator to the case.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. This complaint will be shared with law enforcement agencies and also entered into a secure database to help track down identity thieves. The following website gives you the starting point for this reporting: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/. The FTC’s publication “ID THEFT: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name” (you’ll find a link at that page or go directly to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheft.pdf) provides all of the steps I’ve laid out here as well as steps you can take to prevent ID theft, your rights as a victim, steps you can take to dispute debts, and some helpful forms for every step of the process.
  • If you wish, place an extended fraud alert with each of the three credit reporting agencies. The extended fraud alert will last for seven years and will require a request in writing that includes your ID Theft Report.

Identity theft is the nation’s fastest growing crime, and the number one white collar crime, so it may happen to you. Be prepared, take prevention measures, and take action quickly if it does happen. If your experience is anything like mine, you’ll find a lot of helpful people along the way and some good measures in place to help you minimize the impact of it on your financial goals.

© 2004, Sara Hurd

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