Yes, I live my life online, but the theft of my identity did not happen online...it began with my mailbox. The day before I left on vacation, I placed the only two bills I pay by check in my home mailbox. When I raised the mailbox flag, little did I know I was also waving the red flag for the bull to come charging and steal both bills and checks from my mailbox. From there, the thief bought blank checks from an Office Depot or Wal-Mart, copied my personal information, bought my drivers licence number online and wrote almost 50 checks with my account number and name.
By the time I caught the checks clearing, my account was virtually wiped out. I spent the next two days at my bank and local police department. I was surprised that my bank was not familiar with any procedures of what to do in the case of identity fraud. I filed a report with my local police department, but because none of the checks were written to merchants in my city, I had to file separate police reports in each city the checks were written. A nightmare! Did I mention the kidlette was sick with the flu during this time? This single mom was flying around the metroplex like my hair was on fire!
It has been two weeks since I realized my identity had been stolen. After multiple account and ACH/Direct Deposit errors, my bank may have things in place now. No matter, I am switching banks. The lack of associate education about identity theft and institution's disregard to assist getting my finances in order were despicable. I am disgusted with the way one is treated when identity is stolen. All of a sudden I have become the criminal. Multiple suits have been filed against me by the merchants who had checks returned. My name is also on a national registry to not accept checks through digital readers.
I tell you all this not to complain, but perhaps I can prevent this from happening to you! Please take a moment to visit the FTC Identity Theft site. Begin by reading the Avoid Identity Theft Tool Kit. If you have been a victim of identity theft, Take Charge and Fight Back! (Even if you have not been a victim, please read this and stay alert.) The FTC estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
Identity theft starts with the misuse of your personally identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. For identity thieves, this information is as good as gold.
Skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to get hold of your information, including:
- Dumpster Diving. They rummage through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.
- Skimming. They steal credit/debit card numbers by using a special storage device when processing your card.
- Phishing. They pretend to be financial institutions or companies and send spam or pop-up messages to get you to reveal your personal information.
- Changing Your Address. They divert your billing statements to another location by completing a change of address form.
- Old-Fashioned Stealing. They steal wallets and purses; mail, including bank and credit card statements; pre-approved credit offers; and new checks or tax information. They steal personnel records, or bribe employees who have access.
- Pretexting. They use false pretenses to obtain your personal information from financial institutions, telephone companies, and other sources. For more information about pretexting, click here.
Protect your identity!
- Minimize the amount of personal information you carry.
- Keep personal information in a secure place in your home. Shred before throwing away sensitive information.
- Do not give sensitive information to unsolicited callers
- Shield your hand when entering your PIN at a bank ATM. Take your credit card receipts and ATM slips. Shred them before throwing away.
- Pick up new checks or reissued debit/credit cards at your bank. Do not have your SSN or driver's license number printed on your checks.
- If your bank or credit card statement does not arrive on time, call the issuer to make sure it is being sent to proper address.
- Do not mail sensitive information from your home address. Choose to mail from a secure mail location.
(Photo courtesy e453753.)