Identity theft is one of those things that you know happens, but usually you think it won’t happen to you. However, it can happen to you.
Last year, between Thanksgiving and Christmas, I received a phone call alerting me of possible identity theft. I will spare you all of the gory details… Let’s just say that the initial phone call was a scam. Some fake law firm claimed that they were collecting on a payday loan I took out (yah, right). After a round of questioning by me, the guy I was speaking to rattled off my social security number along with an address I never lived at. Yikes!
After the phone call and my blood pressure skyrocketing, I contacted my bank to alert them of the possible identity theft and then pulled all three of my credit reports. It’s important you pull all three (at a time like this or just to review your reports on a yearly basis) to make sure everything is on the up and up. All the credit bureaus report the same general information, but different items can show up on different reports. For example, on only one report did the fake address the scammers had showed up, which leads me to believe that someone out there did have my social security number and was trying to do some damage in my name… Idiots! It’s a very scary and frustrating situation to be in since you can only do so much to cover all of your bases.
So if this ever happens to you (and I hope it doesn’t) don’t give out any information over the phone. Instead request that they send you a letter in the mail. This is what I did and I received a very bad reaction when requesting this. I repeat: do not give them any personal information that they are requesting! Also, pull your credit reports and contact your bank. If there is anything on your credit reports that raises a red flag and is not legit contact the credit bureau as soon as possible, so they can look into it. They will probably also put your file on fraud alert to be on the safe side.
Then contact the Federal Trade Commission and your state’s Attorney General’s Office about the incident. Both have forms you can fill out, so they can do an investigation. You can also contact the FBI. I talked to a lawyer that specializes in identity theft and he recommended that I do that, just to cover all bases. This was the first time I’ve ever contacted the FBI, and I hope it to be the only time (OK, I will admit it was kind of cool to contact the FBI, but I don’t want to have to do it again since it’s never anything good the FBI is contacted about).
I’m lucky that no further damage was done to my credit. Legally, this was not considered identity theft. During the incident I had conflicting opinions of whether this was identity theft or not. For example, one of my lawyer friends remarked that this sounded like identity theft, but a not-so-friendly cop I happened to talk to about my incident told me that this was not identity theft. My uncle agreed with the cop — that this was not identity theft since nothing was fraudulently done in my name. I would say if I gathered all opinions of the matter it would be a 50-50 split. It turns out my uncle and the unfriendly cop were correct. According to the lawyer that I spoke to, since nothing fraudulent was opened up in my name it is not considered identity theft. But it’s scary enough to know someone submitted a fake address with my name and social security to the credit bureaus. Now I’m vigilant checking my reports and shredding all documents that have my name, address and/or account information noted.
If you want to read more about protecting yourself from identity theft, read “Protecting Your Business from Fraud” by Daniel Bulley, vice president of Mechanical Contractors Association of Chicago. Since his identity was stolen in 2003, Daniel Bulley has volunteered as an advocate with the Identity Theft Resource Center. As vice president of the MCA Chicago, Bulley is passionate about helping contractors take the steps necessary to protect themselves and their businesses from fraud.