Identity Theft

Do you shop with credit or debit cards?  Do you pay bills online?  Do you have a social security number?? If so then you could someday be a victim of identity theft.

I'm sure you are like most people and the thought of someone stealing your identity starts your heart pumping and a wave of panic washes over you.  The unknown future of what this means to you and your family can be overwhelming.  When this happens to you knowing what steps to take can make the chances of successfully surviving this personal attack  possible. How do I know??  I have been a victim myself and had to navigate through the muddy waters without anyone's help.  Trying to figure out what I should be doing, the questions I should be asking, and who was on my side was difficult. I hope that if you ever find yourself in these same waters that I was able to help you feel a little bit more prepared and armed and ready to fight. 
In the summer of 2006 I was about 5 months pregnant with our fourth child.  I was on bedrest with a high risk pregnancy...needless to say removing myself from any stress was prescribed by the doctor. While she would have prefered that I was safely checked into the hospital, the lack of anyone being able to watch the children while my husband was at work, not to mention the mountian high medical bills we would have gathered from such a long stay,  made staying at home a must.  One afternoon after a slow, and highly unallowed, waddle to the mailbox I pulled out a stack of mail that contained 6 new credit cards, 3 in my husbands name and 3 in mine.  I started to frantically open them and find that someone had opened them and taken large cash advances out.  There was that overwhelming wave of stress.  Honestly I'm surprised I didn't have that baby right then and there.  I rushed inside and called my husband to tell him what happened which of course sent him into the same panic mode.  
Then I called the first credit card and told them we didn't open that card.  After speaking to the women on the phone she transferred me to the fraud department where I was on a recorded line and they took my statement.  Explained that they would be sending out an affidavit that I was to sign swearing that I did not open the card and that I should call the police and file a report.  I then proceeded to move through the stack of cards opened in front of me going through the same procedure. After closing those cards I called the police department to file a report.  I was matched up with an office who worked with fraud.  I panickley gave him all the information. I told him how I shred everything before throwing it away.  He chuckled a little and then told me no one steals your stuff out of the garbage can.  He proceeded to tell me how identity thieves shop for their victims.  That they can purchase based upon your credit rating and get everything about you even down to your mothers maiden name.  I was shocked.  Thinking I was protecting myself and finding out that there was little I could do to protect myself.  Next shock was to find out that while calling the credit cards and alerting them was the right thing to do I didn't do it right.  He gave me a lesson of what I needed to do.  What information I was to get and what to do with that information.  I was given a case number and federal website to file my information with as well as the credit bureau numbers to set up an alert.  I am going to share with you  what I learned. 
First, when calling those credit card companies you need to know this is your only chance in getting information from them.  Once it gets moved over to the fraud department they will no longer tell you anything.

Key point of information you need to gather from them are:
  • When was the card applied for?
  • How was this card applied for. i.e. paper form or online?  If it was online can they give you the IP address where it was applied from? 
  • What phone number did they give?
  • Who did they list as an employer?
  • What can they tell you about who and where the cash advance was sent. A lot of times once the thief is done using someones ss#  they will then use their name to set up accounts to transfer the stolen money from the next victim.  This allows them to use you twice and cover their name and tracks up. 
  • VERY important.....who are you talking to. Make sure to get first name, initial of their last name, and if they have any type of agent id...get it.  You need to know who is the reference to this material. 
  • ASK...if there have been any payments missed.  You might be surprised to find one already missed.  Make sure you make note of that so you can clean up any marks that hit your credit report.
How to organize your "evidence":
  • Now that you have that information make sure it's all written down in a journal.  
  • Create a folder to keep your journal and the card.  
  • Write on the paper that the card is attached to who you talked to as well.  This will allow you to have a quick reference if you need it. 
  • When they send you the affidavit make sure you make a copy for your folder as well.
  • Make sure that you send this information to the office as well.
  • Once you get your credit reports keep them in this folder.
Contact the credit reporting agencies
  • Let them know you are a victim and place a fraud alert.  This initial alert will stay active for 90 days. Make sure that your information is correct on your file.  What this alert will do is if anyone tries to open a line of credit they will contact you and find out if you are really trying to open credit or if the thief is still actively using your information. 
  • Ask for a credit report.  You are going to want to make sure that there is nothing else on there that you are not aware of yet.  This is free to you...actually you can request 2 a year for free.
  • Once you have a copy of your police report you can then request an Extended Fraud alert.  This takes the 90 days and extended it to 7 years.  It's very important to keep your contact information on file current and correct so they can contact you over the next 7 years if they need to verify any attempts for credit whether they are your own or done illegally by a identity thief.

Once you receive your credit reports actively work with the credit reporting agency and the fraud department of those banks to make sure that they remove any marks against you.  This is where your note taking will really come in handy because the more proof you can offer the more friendly they will be.  You have to keep in mind that they have just lost money and they are ONLY worried about protecting themselves NOT you.

It is a long battle but you will survive. There were times when I felt that the officer was only collecting data for the file and to be honest I never heard anything from him about what was done.  But reporting everything kept the file current and if I ever needed to prove anything I had my records as well as an official report I could request.

Several more cards trickled in over those next couple weeks but knowing what to do and what information I needed made me feel a little bit more in control in an out of control situation.  All in all when it was done the thief had made over $50,000 between my husband and myself and we were truly blessed by God that besides dealing with a pain in the butt fraud alert on our credit over the next 7 years we had no serious marks on our credit from it.

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