Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Identity Theft Hits Close to Home

I got a call from my mother last night: she's had her identity stolen. Over the past ten days or so, thousands of dollars' worth of purchases on the internet and over the phone have been charged to her principal credit card, and someone applied for a second card in her name (the card company in question, Discover, declined the application and notified my mom, so points to them).

It makes me realize that this can happen to anyone. It can happen to me. And most importantly, there is no way to prevent this, really, short of not having bank accounts. You can decline to put yourself in harm's way (by not falling for phishing scams, for example), but you can't close up all the chinks in your identity's armor. The key, it seems to me, is to keep a tight rein on your finances--my mom only found out about this because she was notified of unusual charges, but given that I check all of my accounts through Bank of America's My Portfolio service at least every other day, I'd probably catch it sooner, and so have less damage to undo. And it seems to me that that's the best one can hope to do.

It's a reminder to me, though, and perhaps to you, too, that by opening extra accounts, an identity thief can do damage to your life and credit report by moving your finances outside your sight. I'm going to pull my credit report this week (via Annual Credit Report); I suggest you do the same.


krystalatwork said...

Yikes!! That's really scary! I hope she gets everything sorted out with the credit card company.

Melissa said...

I just started reading your blog two weeks ago, but I had to comment about this. I had my credit card number stolen two years ago. Like your mom, I didn't know until I started getting phone calls from both my credit card company and some of the online vendors who were questioning the large purchases sent to different states.

It's unsettling, to say the least, but everyone I dealt with was very cooperative and helpful - from the stores to the credit card companies to the credit reporting agencies. Unfortunately, they deal with this all the time.

If she hasn't done so already, tell your mom that she can get a "watch" placed on her credit report for the next six months or a year (I can't remember which). That means if anyone applies for credit in her name she'll be notified. It gave me a little peace of mind, especially since I wasn't sure how much of my information had been stolen. Good luck to her!

Escape Brooklyn said...

I agree with Melissa. I had a "fraud alert" put on my credit reports after my identity was stolen that lasts for 7 years, but I think that's only for victims of identity theft. But I've heard there's something similar for a shorter period of time that non-ID theft victims can do.

It will basically require that any credit card companies call you at home to verify your identity after you submit an application, so ID thieves can't just walk in a store and get immediate approval.

It's a pain to contact all three credit agencies but worth the peace of mind. And of course, also make sure to request your free credit report ( as often as your state allows. I stagger my requests so that I get a different credit report every four months.

SavingDiva said...

Now, I'm super nervous about my identity! I pulled my credit report a few months ago, but I want to check it again!

Mrs. Micah said...

Wow. It's always strange when terrible things happen to "real" people...the ones we know.

I hope your mom's situation gets sorted out quickly.

This is a good reminder that I should check my credit report again.


Ms. M&P said...

Ugh. That's awful. It's happened to me before--it really is a pain to fix, but it's definitely doable. I would check out single ma's credit report repair posts. She covers this really well--I wish I'd had her guide when I went through this.

Raymond said...

I would definitely recommend a credit monitoring service. If you don't want to pay for one, Paypal and Equifax offer a functional basic free service. It might be worth looking into for future reference.

Raymond said...

I would definitely recommend a credit monitoring service. If you don't want to pay for one, Paypal and Equifax offer a functional basic
free credit monitoring service
. It might be worth looking into for future reference.

Anonymous said...

Bronx Chica- I did my credit report on the 2nd of October. I thanks GOD it looks good and instend to get one every four months. One each from the 3 top credit unions.

Thrifty Penny said...

That's truly frightening. Tell your mom to place a "fraud alert." It's active for three months. Whenever someone applies for credit in her name (including herself) the creditors have to call her and verify her information. Your mom would know when and who is applying for credit in her name. She's welcome to renew the alert. I had to do that when a credit card was activated in my name without my knowledge. Also, there were two incidents in college when people hacked into the system and stole personal information such as social security numbers. I hope your mother survives this nightmare!