Personal Finance

Identity theft doesn’t always happen to someone else

I was a victim of identity theft once. The biggest reason for my becoming a victim was my complacency. I live in a small city of 60,000 people and it often seems like problems such as car theft occur somewhere else.

I first became suspicious of a problem when I received an email from my cell phone company stating that they had made a mistake when we spoke on the phone and that I could cancel my contract for $60, not $200 as previously mentioned. Of course I was very surprised by this. Not knowing what else to do I contacted the police to seek their advice. The officer I spoke with mentioned that it was unusual for identity theft to happen when a wallet wasn’t stolen and that at this point there wasn’t anything they could do to help.

After getting off the phone with the police I checked for my wallet and found it was missing and had been for at least two weeks. At this point I was thinking that this was the action of a common thief who was looking for any cash that may have been in my wallet. Worse case scenario I figured they would use my video rental cards to steal DVDs and such from local video stores. I cancelled all of my accounts and was pleasantly surprised to find that nothing had been rented on any of my accounts.

My relief didn’t last long. About two months after discovering my wallet had been stolen I received a strange phone call. A vehicle control agent from Hertz Rent A Car left a message asking me to call them and return the vehicle that I had rented. I was dumbfounded! Not only had I not rented a vehicle from them, been in the city that the vehicle was rented from but I would not have rented a Ford F350 if I did need a vehicle.

After contacting Hertz we soon had sorted out the matter to some degree. After a lot of phone calls I was able to explain that I was the victim of identity theft. This was a difficult feat to do since different divisions of Hertz where involved and each division only had my information. While working with Hertz I was able to discover that the credit card, in my name, was a cloned credit card and that the truck was recovered a month latter with nothing but the tires and partial engine left on the frame. The police could not lift fingerprints from the remains of the truck.

The next problem I had after that was about a month later when my cell phone company called to tell me they where filing fraud charges against me the next day. Since I had obtained a cell phone and had not made a single payment or contacted them about the account in 4 months I was obviously defrauding them. After some frantic phone calls I got through to the fraud department there and managed to put a stop to the process and eventually end it.

The final surprising thing came about a month after the cell phone incident. This is when the police fraud and theft. Since my ID was used I had to provide recorded statements explaining what happened and what I knew of this incident. At this point I knew more about the incidents than the police did. I knew where the vehicle was rented from, who to contact at Hertz, that the credit card was cloned and the details of the other events that occurred. This knowledge both impressed and helped the police who still do not have any leads nor have they done a full investigation into the events other than ensuring my name was cleared of any wrong doing.

So what did I learn from all of this?

1) Do not leave your ID in an easy to find location.

Normally I only had my bank card and work ID on my person and left the rest in my car since I would be in my car if I was pulled over or renting a movies. While this seemed like a good idea I now know better.

2) You must act quickly and effectively once you realize your ID is missing.

You are in a race against time and the longer they have the more they can do. Ensure you have done the following things.

  • File a report with the police immediately. The police may not investigate right away but this serves as a first line of defense. In the event that there is any confusion over charges or activities this date can be used as a definite date that can not be disputed. When filing the reports ask for any advice they may have.
  • Protect your credit and yourself. Immediately phone credit beaus and have them put a fraud warning on your file. After this, anytime a credit check is done a message is displayed warning the person doing the check. Also the credit beau will call a known phone number to verify it was you who had requested the credit check. If you have any charge cards cancel them immediately. Similarly, get new video rental cards, library card and another local card you may have had.

3) Mentally prepare yourself for what may be a very long year or more.

Unfortunately there is no way to know what your ID will be used for and when. You may be lucky and it was some one hoping to find a few dollars or it could be used to produce a false passport for criminal activities. Credit card companies, police and businesses have no way of knowing that the person they are dealing with isn’t really you so they will contact you first when things go wrong. This can be very stressful as you never know when someone might call demanding payment on a loan that you didn’t get or worse. You may also discover that checks you did not write have been cashed or your credit limit has been reached because you co-signed for a loan. These things usually happen at the worst times increasing stress levels even more.

4) Document everything and investigate for yourself as much as possible.

The first person to find out there is a problem will be you which means you must investigate and record your findings for your own protection and to aid in a police investigation if needed. Ask what the person who used your ID looked like, the address of the business, the name of the person you are speaking to, the time and date, if they have video of the transaction, if they have a police file number and what yours is and where you where when this occurred.

5) Remain vigilant even if your ID has not been stolen.

There have been many security breaches and sales of personal information that have allowed criminals to steal identities without having to steal a wallet. Obtain a copy of your credit report at least once a year. You may notice activity that is not yours or entries that are inaccurate. Examine all bills and account summaries. Perhaps you may not have noticed an extra $5 a month for a second phone line that isn’t yours or a $15 service fee for an extra box or checks that you didn’t request.