When I was the victim of identity theft early last year, nobody was as surprised as me. I mean, I keep all of my information safe, I never give out any account numbers, and I shred all bank statements and other documents that might have any personal information on them. There was just no way that someone could steal from me, or so I thought.
If I learned one thing from my experience, it is that anyone can be a victim at any time. I hope that by sharing what happened to me, and what steps I used to deal with the theft, that I can help someone who may find themselves in the same position.
My identity theft story
My family and I had been back from a week-long vacation in Florida only a few days when I discovered that someone had made 2 payments to their credit cards using our checking account. Because their very large payments caused our account to be overdrawn, our bank notified us that same day.
I immediately called the bank to report that those payments were fraudulent and expected that they would just reverse the charges and that everything would go back to normal. Was I ever wrong!
Because the payments had been made using our account number (instead of a debit card number, for example), the bank told me that our account was compromised and that we would need to close that account. They also advised me to file a police report right away.
Making a long story short, the police were able to discover that my personal information had been stolen by an administrative employee of a doctor’s office. She took my name, address, social security number and driver’s license number from a new patient form, and when I made a payment to my account by check, she took the routing and account numbers to my checking account.
Using my information, she obtained a free credit report to see if I would make a good victim. Satisfied that I might have some money, she used my checking account information to make payments on both her and her husband’s credit cards. We also found that she had made a fake ID with my information, which she used at a store in another state to open a credit card at the register and purchase $3,000 worth of merchandise.
In order to clean this mess up, I had to spend hours on the phone with my bank, the issuer of the fraudulent credit account and the credit bureaus. Because we had to open a new checking account, I also had to spend a good deal of time switching over our direct deposits and automatic payments that we have set up to pay insurance and other bills.
This ordeal was a nightmare for me, but I realize that it could have been much, much worse had we not caught it so early. I also realized that my identity theft was not the result of something that I had done wrong, but that I could take additional steps to prevent it from ever happening again.
What to do if you are the victim of identity theft
1. Stay calm. When I first discovered that my identity had been stolen, the first thing I did was to panic. I felt very insecure knowing that a total stranger had been able to take all the money we had in our account, and wasn’t 100% sure if we would get it back.
What I discovered later was that the banks and credit companies are very used to this type of thing. While talking to the representatives who were helping me with my accounts, I heard some some of their experiences, and realized that they deal with this every single day. It happens a lot more often that we are aware of, and they are more than happy to help you.
2. File a police report as soon as you realize that the theft has taken place. Identity theft is a crime, and should be treated the same as if your car was stolen. Having a police report on file is also helpful in demonstrating to the banks that the transactions that you are disputing were indeed made by someone who stole your information.
3. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. After filing your police report, the next thing to do is to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your account with the credit bureaus. This tells banks or credit card companies that someone has stolen your information and, in the case of the freeze, will not let them open accounts in your name. Check out this guide for more information on how to do this.
4. Contact your bank or the company who issued the fraudulent credit account. Let them know that the charges were fraudulent as soon as possible. In our case, the bank gave us a temporary credit in the amount that was stolen until they were able to finish their investigation. I also had to complete an affidavit to prove that I had not made those charges, and provide them with the police report I had filed.
5. Make sure to keep copies of everything. There will be A LOT of paperwork involved in this process. Make sure you keep everything in case you need it in the future.
6. Take steps to prevent identity theft from happening again. Unfortunately, in my case, the information I gave to the doctor was necessary for him to file a claim with my insurance company. He had no idea that his employee was unscrupulous, and I’m sure he feels terrible that many of his patients were affected by this person. In hindsight, however, I think it would have been better to make my payments via my debit card in person, or better yet, in cash, to prevent anyone from obtaining my account numbers. Having a permanent freeze on my credit report would have also made the thief unable to open a credit card in my name.
If you would like more information on identity theft, you can take a look at this helpful series written by the FTC.
Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? How has it changed the way you protect your financial information?