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Identity Theft - Refuse to be a Victim

I experienced what itís like to be a target of identity theft. Submitted anonymously by a NHFCU employee.

Monday, April 1, 2019

I experienced what it’s like to be a target of identity theft. Submitted anonymously by a NHFCU employee.

You know when you feel uneasy, when you just sense something is wrong? It happened to me recently.  Here’s my story: 

I got home from work late one night and opened a letter from a bank in Ohio. The bank was denying my application for a master card.  The letter gave several reasons why I wasn’t being approved for the card.  I knew something was wrong, because I had not applied for a card.  Also, the letter stated my total monthly payments on my credit card accounts was too high and I pay my accounts off every month…this did not add up!  I didn’t think about doing anything right then, because I was tired, I wanted to eat my dinner, catch up with family and relax. 

The next morning when I woke up I realized this was or could be a real problem…identity theft. And, it was.  My gut reaction was to start making calls.  So many frightening thoughts were going through my head.  Had someone stolen my social security number?  Did someone wrack up thousands of dollars of bogus charges on my credit card accounts?  Was someone posing as me with a fake license?  Could someone do the worst and send the IRS a fake tax return?  I took a deep breath, and made a list of people to call and to see in person.  Once I did that, I felt like I had control of what I needed to do.  Worrying wasn’t going to help.  Action would. 
The most important thing that made it a lot easier to start making calls is that I do all my banking and financial business locally. I could pick up the phone and ask for someone I know.  The only non-local call was the bank that sent the letter.

These are the phone calls I made first and why:
 *My local bank to find out if they knew the bank in Ohio was legitimate. 
*The bank in Ohio to find out why the letter had been sent.
*My Insurance agent who filed a claim with my insurance company.
*All three credit bureaus to put a freeze on my accounts (Trans Union, Experian, Equifax).
*The companies I have credit card accounts with to put fraud protection and added security on them.
*My local police department to file an identity theft report.
*The Federal Trade Commission to file an incident report.
*My Financial advisor/investment company to add security to my accounts.
*NH Department of Motor Vehicle in case my license had been compromised.
*Two companies I had worked with as an independent contractor in 2018 because they issue 1099’s for taxes.

Next, I went to all these places in person:
*Two local banks and a credit union to put added security on my accounts.
*Social Security Administration to put security on my account.

Also, I went on-line to do these things:
*Downloaded Form 14093 off the IRS website which is an Identity Theft Affidavit so I could let them know my social security number had been hacked.
*Updated all 3 credit cards with new security and passwords.

Here’s what I found out:
The person I talked with at the bank in Ohio confirmed they sent the letter because “I” had applied for five new retail charge cards on January 15th.  I assured him that was not true.  I told him I was probably the target of identity theft.  He asked for the last 4 digits of my social security number.  I was reluctant to give him the information.  He sensed my concern and asked me for my date of birth instead.  He figured out within about two minutes my social security number had been used as a means to apply for credit.  One account had already been opened January 15th.  Luckily, there were no charges.  He shut down that account and he went over the other four accounts and I confirmed each time I had not submitted those applications.  With all those accounts shut down, he recommended I call all three credit bureaus right away to put a fraud alert on my accounts for a year.  He was helpful, apologetic and gave me the information I needed to take the next steps.

When I called the credit bureaus, each person I talked with was understanding and gave me step-by-step instructions to help protect myself. When I talked with the third credit bureau, the contact confirmed my information and rattled off the last four digits of a phone number I hadn’t used in 20 years.  I was shocked to find out how far back information is stored.  That particular credit bureau also had a bogus phone number I’d never used, so I wondered if that might have been another account the hacker could have tried to use to steal more information.

When I talked with my credit card companies, the charges on my accounts were only ones I had made. Phew!   
The woman I met with in person at Social Security told me people come in every day telling her a story like mine. She was helpful and supportive.

The local police detective said I’d taken more steps than many people who file complaints like mine.

Time spent protecting my identity and accounts:
From the time I got the letter through the next day, I had spent about six hours on the phone, on-line or in person with people making sure I have protection moving forward. I am still making follow up phone calls every week, or going on line every day to check my credit card balances.  I’m working on an email for the police department so they can get me a case number I need to provide to the credit bureaus. Working full time, taking care of family, and now adding this to my life is frustrating, but I’m not letting it get to me, because I know I have to keep taking action to protect my good name.
By the time I am done settling a few more things, I will spend an average of 2 hours a week checking and rechecking my accounts for any suspicious activity.  

The one thing you should do right now:
The lesson I have learned, no matter how careful I thought I had been, is that I could have done more. After reading this, if you haven’t already done it, please go to your local social security office as soon as you can and have them help you protect your identity.  You are the only person who will have access.  I promise, it will give you peace of mind.  Though it may not stop a hacker from getting your number, it should stop them from getting into your social security account. It is something I wish I had done a long time ago. 

Finally, refuse to be a victim
As I was driving home from meetings the day after I got the letter, the claims adjuster from my insurance company called. He read through what my policy covered and explained how they would help if I have to take time off from work to get paperwork notarized, if I need to hire a lawyer, and several other things that might cause lost wages in the future because I was targeted.  When I told him I wanted to protect myself in every way, he said we’ll never know who did this. He also said it’s happening so much, and the hack could have originated from Duluth or the Czech Republic.  I told him I felt confident I’d put all the steps in place that I can to protect myself from a further breach.  He agreed I’d done a thorough job, but also said “plan for the best but expect the worst.”  My response was simple. I refuse to be a victim.
It’s important to know the comfort I felt throughout this experience because of doing business with people I know and trust. I’m grateful that I have a handle on my finances locally. Each person held my hand in a different way, supporting me during the process. Knowing the person on the other end of the phone, or across the desk gave me direction and the courage to act instead of sitting down and crying. Trust is huge after something like this happens.  You know who you are talking with and you know they understand.  My identify theft could have come from anywhere.  I’m careful with my information.  I’m married to a CPA.  I work in the financial industry.  It happened to me anyhow.

Anyone can be targeted for identity theft. Cyber fraud is everywhere.  When I re-examined the entire situation, the protections I thought I had in place for my personal information didn’t matter. Someone still got my number.  What matters is they tried, but more importantly, they were unsuccessful in causing long-term harm to me because I worked through it. 

*Identity Theft is time consuming, upsetting, and requires work to deal with after the fact.
*Dealing with Identity Theft takes commitment on your part to see things through.  No one is a better protector/defender of your finances than you.
*f you think something may be wrong, it’s always in your best interest to investigate –don’t wait.

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