Protecting your identity: What I did as the victim of identity theft
The first call came from a man in Texas. He said he received a cashier's check from a bank in Alabama in exchange for $3,000 in baseball memorabilia he was selling online. The package arrived by Federal Express and the shipping label listed my name, address and phone number. He called me because he was suspicious because my address is in Connecticut but the bank is in Alabama.
After the second of several similar calls, I figured out that someone had stolen my credit card and was shipping counterfeit checks all over the country using a Federal Express account opened in my name.
I had heard that identity theft, where someone gains access to personal information then uses it to open credit cards and take out loans in other people's names, was rampant. I wasn't sure if that's what was happening to me, but I quickly learned to act on my suspicions. After some research, I realized I needed to make three critical calls, and fast:
- Contact the three credit bureaus: I immediately called my bank, and they contacted the three credit bureaus, Equifax,Experian and Transunion, which collect information about consumers' credit activity. Citibank placed a fraud alert on my files with all three bureaus, which will monitor my credit reports for 90 days to make sure no one has tried to open accounts using my name.
- File a report with the police department. They will work with other police departments to try to track down the criminals.
- Notify the Federal Trade Commission. It enters the information into its identity theft data clearinghouse, and use it to help catch thieves. The information will also be also used for filing an identity theft report once I get the official police report and fill out some other paperwork the bank sent me.
In the next few days, I received two checks made out to other people but sent to my home address. I turned them over to the police. If I were to deposit the check and it bounced, my bank would mail it to the sender, who could try to access my bank account.
Of course, I called Federal Express and shut down the account early on. I also called my credit card company, and reviewed the charges to my credit card to see if there were any that my husband or I did not make. There were several, including a few to Federal Express, $600 in an online purchase and a few to Craigslist.com. I filed a fraud report and put a block on the account.
A week later, there has been no activity reported, which means that most likely mine was a case of account takeover rather than true identity theft. All tolled, roughly $3,000 was charged in my name on my credit card or via Fed Ex. Fortunately, I'm not responsible for any of the expenses. One charge that was puzzling was three donations totaling $1,200 to CARE, the international relief agency. When I spoke with a CARE representative, Debbie Varble, she said that it was not unusual for thieves to do this on non-profit web sites. "We don't sell anything and we don't ship anything, she explained. "So thieves use non-profits as a testing ground to see how much they can charge."
Read more about identity theft and steps you can take to prevent it here.