This is part two of a two-part identity theft series
As mentioned in part one of this two-part series, identity theft is a serious crime that can make anyone its victim. Identity thieves will target anything from your bank accounts to your medical history. Although there are some security measures you can take to help avoid identity theft, there is no way to become 100 percent safe. Even though identity theft has been a threat for years, it just continues to become even a greater threat as it evolves alongside technology. Here's what two victims have to say about their experiences with identity theft:
Brian Shell, Author of 35 books at PassionHero.com
"It was a Friday when I worked from 3-7 p.m. at the corner store a half mile away. At 2 p.m., I went grocery shopping and came home to put everything away, and all was okay. I went to work at 3 p.m. and decided to stay to 7:30 p.m. because we were busy. When I came home, I found my TV missing and both of my bedrooms ransacked with a broken-out back window (their entryway), and a kicked-open side door (their exit portal). Since my safe was stolen, and since I knew there were spare credit cards inside, I immediately started calling those particular cards to cancel them. One of them was being used on a shopping spree as I spoke with the agent, and a freeze stopped their spree. It also provided the evidence I’d need to convict and evict them. Interesting side note is that if I only worked until 7 p.m., the credit card would have been cancelled before they tried to commit credit fraud, and I may not have been able to get convictions. It was a good work ethic that enabled the perpetrators to start spending before the card was cancelled.
Among the items stolen were all of my family’s jewels/heirlooms… but also the Bible my Grandmother gave me for my first communion and my deceased dog’s collar, tags, photos, and 1994 ad in the paper for him to find a good home. I didn’t sleep well for days. The first thing I did after cancelling the cards and having the police document the case was to change every single one of my passwords. I then changed them all again a week later. The police case opened was for the breaking and entering burglary. I also closed my bank account and opened a new one so the banking checks they stole couldn’t be used either.
I spoke to the detective who works at Macy's, told her about the use of my Macy's AMEX card at their store, and she gathered video evidence that enabled me to convict two of the three perpetrators and get one (the juvenile) of them evicted from our neighborhood. I also opened another police case for credit fraud in the city that it was committed in because that was the only hard evidence I could gather that could and did lead to a conviction for credit fraud. They didn’t leave any evidence behind for the B&E.
When they ransacked my home, they opened every dresser drawer, tossed my mattresses, and went for the stuff with handles that were easy to grab and carry. The issue I faced was that two of my windows were without blinds and curtains, so it was easy to look inside. Another issue was that I didn’t keep my lights on while I was away at work for the evening (in a frugal attempt to save pennies on my electric bill), so the place looked dark and broadcast that no one was home. Now, I keep a few lights on and play the stereo while I’m away. I invested in blinds and curtains. I vary my patterns and structure more than I used to do. Also, keep your credit cards and birth certificates and social security info in a non-obvious spot.
A few other things I did after the credit fraud was go to the social security office and get the government pamphlet of steps to take to protect your identity. Follow each and every one as much as possible. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. At first, I called the three credit reporting agencies every 90 days to keep a credit alert in play. However, if you want to get a seven-year extended credit alert with the credit bureau, you will need to mail each credit bureau a copy along with your written request that you need to send via certified mail."
Charles Lee Mudd Jr., Principal and Attorney at Mudd Law
"Someone obtained my credit card information and used it to make purchases of sporting equipment. This occurred perhaps about 15 years ago. A party called to confirm an order had been placed. I believe it was the credit card company. I indicated that I did not place the order. It also appeared that a second order had already been placed and cleared.
I informed the credit card company that the orders were not valid. I obtained as much information about the merchants as I could from the credit card company. I called the merchant at issue and informed them that orders had been placed with my card that were not valid. They stopped one shipment, but a shipment had already been made and was scheduled for delivery. I obtained the shipping company’s name and information. I obtained the tracking number, called the company, and informed it of the facts. They began an investigation while I held on the phone.
As it turns out, the package had just been delivered to the address and a signature had been obtained. They sent me records. In the end, there was no house or property at the address. The signature was not mine. And, although one package had been delivered, I cancelled everything else. I obtained a new card number (you do not want to cancel the whole account as you will lose the longevity of the account and a new account may appear more negative on your credit report).
I did not seek professional advice, as I was the professional. This experience provided me the first-hand stress and perspective of our clients. Though, to be honest, many of my clients have much worse situations than I did.
You should actively monitor your credit report. I pay for a monitoring service to receive any alerts. I actively manage my scores as well. I work to ensure my scores will be high. So, it’s an active involvement in managing your credit. Use a credit card for purchases for vendors online. Then, pay it off right away. Do not use your debit card. If a fraudulent charge is made on a credit card, the company will usually credit the amount while it investigates the matter. With a debit card, the bank will likely not put the funds back into your account pending the investigation. Try to use one card. Use distinct passwords. Do not use the same password for access to all of your accounts.
I wish I had been a bit quicker to stop the one delivery. But, I acted pretty quickly regardless. I wish I would have known how long it would take the police in the city to respond to the complaint I filed. I did not hear anything for months. So, take notes and memorialize everything at the time it happens. If you file a police report, you may need to pull it back up months down the road."
Identity theft advancements
Since identity theft is constantly evolving, the idea of keeping your information secure can seem overwhelming at times. Instead of worrying about just a wallet or a home safe, people now have to worry about their smart devices, points of Wi-Fi access, passwords, security software, credit reports, etc. The list keeps growing as we become more vulnerable to identity theft. It's important that you regularly monitor all of your devices and accounts to ensure your security. On top of personal monitoring, you should consider getting help from a professional identity theft protection company.