The Frightening World of Identity Theft
By Tiffany Bass Bukow, Founder of MsMoney.com
Recently I was the victim of identity theft. I was familiar with what it meant because MsMoney.com had an article on the Web site which discussed how identity thieves operate. However, I never thought it would happen to me.
Because I travel frequently I seldom am able to open my mail in a timely fashion. Yet, on the exact day the letter arrived alerting me of a possible identity theft, I happened to be home checking my mail. I remember opening the letter and wondering why I was receiving correspondence from this particular bank for a Visa card I never had used. I only kept this specific Visa for emergency credit. In fact, I had several extra credit cards I kept in my drawer that I never used.
The letter from the bank thanked me for the change of address from San Francisco to Las Vegas and stated, if this was not my address, that I should contact the Fraud department immediately. Since I had not put in a change of address I was immediately alarmed and called the 800 number.
The Fraud department thanked me for the alert and said they would check into the matter. I was still very nervous, so I started to question the representative on the phone to see if there was any activity on the account. I told them I had never used the card nor had I taken it out of my drawer. They checked the account and found out someone had charged $9900 worth of merchandise from Sony mail order.
How did the bank allow someone to change my address? The Fraud analyst told me the thief must have my old address, phone number, Mother’s Maiden Name and Social Security Number in order to make any changes to my account.
Now I was alarmed because this was very serious. I had heard many horror stories about people having their identity stolen and creditors coming to their door for unpaid bills for purchases they didn’t make. I was shocked. How did someone get that personal information about me? And now that they had it, what were they going to do with it? I had always prided myself on having perfect credit and was frightened that my credit reputation could be damaged because of this crime.
I found out that the thief purchased 3 Sony camcorders for $3,300 from Sony mail order and had them shipped to Las Vegas. Since merchants usually don’t ship to places where the address is different from the credit card without verifying a purchase first, the thief had to change my address to match the shipping address.
Sony usually calls the home phone of the person making the purchase to verify large purchases. However, since the thief left the new phone number blank, Sony couldn’t call to verify and decided to ship the purchase anyway. That was a mistake on their part!
The crime was well orchestrated. The thief called the bank to change my address on Wednesday; probably knowing it would be in effect the next day. Then called Sony on Thursday to ship the equipment overnight to arrive on Friday. By the time I received the change of notice from the bank on Friday, it would be too late to do anything.
I wanted the Las Vegas Police department to investigate the new address where the purchase was shipped. It made me angry that the thief had the audacity to ship to an address. I wondered where the location was and how they were going to get away with picking up the merchandise. The Las Vegas Police department told me they couldn’t investigate the address without a police report from the San Francisco Police. So I called the San Francisco Police. They actually came to my home at 10pm at night to take the report and said they could get something to Vegas by Saturday, which was too late to catch the thief picking up the goods.
Identity theft is the nation’s fastest-growing crime, affecting an estimated 500,000 to 700,000 people per year. The Police said I should take the matter into my own hands since there wasn’t much they could do for me. They recommended I call the 3 main credit-reporting agencies to put a credit alert on file for my accounts. This would require credit lenders to call me to verify any new credit accounts opened in my name.
I wondered if someone was running around the world charging up huge visa accounts that I would ultimately be responsible for. I started to get worried and realized I had better check my credit report for any suspicious action. I had so many Visa’s lying around that I wouldn’t know if one disappeared. I figured it was best to simplify by Visa life and close accounts I wasn’t using.
My next step was to order my credit report online to see what damage had been caused by the identity thieves