Countrywide employee caught stealing identities

Late last week, a former Countrywide Financial Corp. employee and his pal were arrested by the FBI for stealing and selling personal data of mortgage applicants. They estimate that up to 2 million people's identities were compromised by these clowns over a two year period.

The former employee, Rene Rebollo, was a senior financial analyst in Countrywide's subprime lending division, Full Spectrum Lending. His buddy, Wahid Siddiqi, is the one accused of selling the data at $400 to $500 for each batch of "leads." These so-called leads were sold to agents who would solicit the customers for new loans with other mortgage companies.

How did Rebollo take all the personal information? On Sunday evenings, he would copy information on 20,000 people at a time. And the money the two guys got for the personal information amounted to about 2.5 cents per customer.
This case goes to show just how easy it is for our personal information to end up in the wrong hands. Imagine how many people are seeing your private data on a daily basis. Employees of credit card companies, banks, and other financial institutions have the opportunity to see all kinds of private information. And we as consumers are supposed to trust that all of these employees accessing our data are going to be honest with it?

That's why it's so important to continuously monitor your credit report with the free credit reports the agencies are required by law to give you. Not only should you access the minimum of 3 free per year (one from each agency), you should also take advantage of any other opportunity to look at your credit report. For example, if you're denied credit, you have a right to see the credit report that was used in that credit decision, and it's free.

You should definitely take that opportunity for another look at your credit report. Right now, monitoring your own credit by looking at your credit report regularly is by far the best way to protect your good name. Identity theft protection services aren't all that they're cracked up to be, and you're better off doing your own monitoring for free.

Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations for her company Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting, and is the author of Essentials of Corporate Fraud.
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