& Credit Fraud.
Case History - One Client's True Story
Through my experience, I learned how my
case of identity theft could have been prevented, and how consumers
can protect themselves from identity theft that is running rampant
in the U.S. today.
It took me one month of 40-hour work-weeks
of phone calling, letter writing, information gathering and the
following sequence of events to learn this and I'd like to share
it with your visitors.
I live and work in Chicago, last November,
my bank account statements started going to an apartment in Miami.
I gave no authorization for this. I continued to conduct frequent
ATM transactions in Chicago and noticed nothing amiss with my
accounts; I also failed to notice the absence of my monthly statements
in the mail.
In December, an impostor phoned the credit
card department of my bank and reported my credit card lost. The
card was a low-balance, credit card I had not used in months;
its balance was $0. It was reissued with my name and social security
number (SSN) and sent to Miami.
Within a few days, the card was maxed
out. In January, a Visa Gold, high-credit-line credit card, also
to my name and SSN, was sent to Miami. The application had been
made by telephone in December.
The new card was maxed out by daily cash
withdrawals in only 2 weeks. This whole time, a single payment
of $14 was made by my impostor. Finally, in March I received a
phone call from my bank. I was easy to find: my Chicago home and
work phone numbers remained on the bank account, although the
mailing address was Miami.
While I tried to determine what to do,
most of the time I was alone and on my own, worried and uncertain
about the extent of the fraud and spending hours on the phone
on hold and sifting through voice mail options, waiting to speak
to agents at the three credit bureaus, then waiting anxiously
for at least 10 days to receive my reports from them in the mail.
I was intensely frightened because I could
not get my hands quickly upon my credit reports, to see for myself
the extent of fraud, and be reassured that no more bad surprises
That's when I called InCase. Within a
few hours, they were able to supply me with portions of data on
my credit reports from all three bureaus at once. This data reassured
me that I had learned the total extent of the damage and that
when my reports finally arrived by mail from the bureaus, no surprise
horrors would lurk within.
Also, this report told me that only one
person was listed under my SSN. This gave me more reassurance
that indeed, my most dreaded scenario (multiple fraudulent users
of my SSN) had not occurred. Finally, after educating myself further
on identity safety, I am confident that the process of data transmission
between InCase and myself to conduct this identity check was the
safest possible means of communication.
At the time, I relied solely on InCase's
experience since I was ignorant and deeply stressed. It is reassuring
to me I was well-advised by them on how to most safely conduct
this identity check. It was also reassuring to be assisted by
someone well-versed in identity check procedures and confident
and knowledgeable in their protocols.
From working with InCase, I achieved much-needed
peace of mind at my most stressful frightened period. Had I obtained
this report from InCase in November, I would have known IMMEDIATELY
WITHIN 2 HOURS that something was drastically wrong with my credit
reports. I would have been able to call the fraud departments
of the credit bureaus right away and cut off my impostor's activities
I am thankful that I obtained
reassurance from working with InCase at a time when reassurance
was short and fear and terror at an all-time high.
- What you can
The following is a list of measures which
when implemented can improve your chances of avoiding identity
theft. This list was developed from my experience and from consulting
the web site and handbook published by the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse,
a non-profit consumer education organization (http://www.privacyrights.org).
Don't forget to check yourself!
Get passwords for
all your accounts. Retire your mother's
maiden name from this position permanently. The protected transactions
include change-of address, change in available credit, and new
card and pin-number issuance's. Apply passwords today by calling
the toll-free, 24 hour phone numbers for your accounts. Find
out how much protection and enforcement these passwords will
Before you make that call--don't
use your cordless or cellular phone. Supply sensitive information
only on phones connected by wire to your phone outlet. Unless
your cordless or cellular phone is an expensive, code-scrambling
model, anyone with the appropriate radiowave scanning device
can overhear your conversation including your account information
and your new password.
Protect your Social Security Number (SSN).
Supply it only when necessary; never give it by phone to anyone
who calls you and asks for it. You initiate such a call yourself
to a legitimate entity. Never write your SSN on checks. Request
that it NOT be used for identification by employers and financial
and educational institutions; it was never intended for this
purpose. Finally, never supply it for supermarket shopping clubs
or gym memberships. Be watchful when filling out all applications,
ask yourself, "Is my SSN really needed for this?
- 4) Keep
rigorous records. During the fraud,
I missed 4 monthly bank statements and didn't notice! Mark in
your dayplanner for the whole year when all bills and statements
are due. Watch your mail for them. Keep separate binders for
each account and add the most recent bills and statements upon
- 5) Order very frequent credit reports. For around $8 each from an agency such as Experian:
- There are two other agencies, Equifax
and TransUnion that may carry different data. To catch an impostor
applying for credit in your name you must check all three; many
credit grantors request a credit report from only one agency.
- Every 2 months I will order my credit
reports from each of the three bureaus. In doing so, I will hopefully
curtail the spending sprees of any future impostors and make
it a hassle for them to target me.
- If I were a non-victim, I would order
all three reports at least twice a year. In doing so, I could
catch an impostor potentially 6 months and $40,000 into a spending
spree and the records would be fairly recent. This would make
it easier to remove the fraudulent data from my record, although
it would still be an arduous, expensive, and time-consuming process.
- 6) Cancel
unused $0 balance credit cards and unnecessary lines of credit. Minimize the available credit on your cards;
you can always raise it later by phone when needed.
- 7) Permanently
make your name unavailable for approved offers of credit. For free, you can call the reporting agencies
(listed above) to stop receiving pre-approved offers of credit.
- 8) If
you believe you have no credit report,
make frequent confirmations. High-dollar victimization THROUGH
identity theft can readily befall a naive victim who believes
that, having no credit cards or loans, one need not check. This
includes children and senior citizens. There are listed cases
of children who have bad credit reports because an impostor has
been obtaining credit cards and bank accounts using the child's
- 9) Guard
your wallet. Your wallet, if stolen,
would command a high price for the information in it. Even if
you cancel your driver's license number and all accounts, a person
can take this identity information to a distant state and establish
him/herself there using YOUR identity. You may not be contacted
until bounced checks, large debts, and crimes occur.
- 10) Lobby
for change. Currently, in California
identity theft is a misdemeanor. In New York state it is a minor
felony. Ralph Nader stated in The Privacy Rights Handbook: "Since
the Privacy Act of 1974, intrusions on privacy have increased
exponentially...yet the protections in law are no greater today
than they were in the early 1970s." Voice your opinions
to your representatives in government."
- 11) Educate. Make use of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
resources and spread the word. Discuss privacy and protection
issues with your family and friends. Watch news programs concerning
The greatest trick
the devil ever played was
convincing the world he didn't exist.
- The Usual
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