Working in Internet security, I try to embrace the best practices that would prevent identity theft (see my previous blog post: Advice from a Victim of Identity Theft: Preventative Measures), but sometimes that’s not enough. Criminals managed to get my name, address, birth date, driver’s license number, bank account number, and social security number. My guess is that a company I do business with got hacked—and they probably don’t even know it.
What did the criminals do with my personal information? They made a fake driver’s license and entered branches of my bank in southern California and withdrew money, emptying my bank account. Then they made fake checks and managed to cash them, overdrawing my account. They also made a second driver’s license and had someone in Lexington, Kentucky open multiple new retail accounts in my name.
How did I find out? I logged on to do some online banking and found my checking account drained. Later, I received a call from Target asking if I had opened a Target account in Lexington—they noticed that my address was in northern California (kudos to Target for following up). From there, I rode a rollercoaster of dealing with fake checks, closing multiple fraudulently opened accounts and more…
Here’s what I learned:
Bank account issues
- Check your account balance frequently. If anything looks unusual, contact your bank IMMEDIATELY. I called at 10:30 pm on a Saturday and received help.
- If you find fraudulent activity, make sure your bank files a “fraud” claim. Initially my bank submitted a “mistake” claim and the appropriate fraud alerts were not placed on my account.
- As soon as possible, open a new account. This requires a lot of work changing direct deposits, automatic payments, etc., but it is important that the criminals no longer have access to your account number.
New fraudulent accounts
- Get credit reports for all three credit agencies. You can get a free credit report annually from each of the credit report agencies. If you believe you’re the victim of identity theft, you will want to immediately get a copy of all three. Otherwise, you might want to stagger your free reports from the three credit report agencies across the year as a way to monitor your credit. You can access your free report from www.annualcreditreport.com.
- In your credit reports, look at the new accounts AND the credit inquiries which are made when a request for a new credit account is submitted. Inquiries will most likely show up before a new account is processed and displayed on the account.
- Call the companies that made credit inquiries to see if new credit accounts were successfully opened in your name. My reports did not show any new accounts. But when I followed up on the multiple credit inquiries, I found that three new accounts had been opened in my name with retail companies and I was able to get these accounts closed.
- Activate fraud alerts with all three of the credit report agencies. This should help prevent new accounts from being opened. You can also put a lock on your accounts. A lock requires companies to contact you and confirm additional security information prior to approving new accounts. Here is the contact information for the three credit report agencies:
- Equifax: 1-800-685-1111; http://www.equifax.com
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742; http://www.experian.com
- TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872; http://www.transunion.com
Reporting fraudulent activity
- Submit a police report. I was told to submit a report in the area where the fraud was committed. However, the police in the city where the accounts were opened directed me to my local police and they took the report.
- The Federal Trade Commission takes fraud reports and they provide additional details on what to do if you’re a victim of identity theft. Visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft
- If it feels like something you should do, do it. I found that people tended to give me advice that only supported their piece of the puzzle. For example, one person told me I didn’t need to submit a police report. She might not have needed one, but this can be important when submitting affidavits to close fraudulent accounts. Also, the credit report agency said I didn’t need to follow up on inquiries, I could just contest an account through the credit report agency. If I had waited for the fraudulent accounts to post to my credit report, much more damage could have been done in that time.
- FOLLOW UP. Make sure to confirm that changes have been made. I had to follow up with my bank to change the claim status from “mistake” to “fraud.” Also, it took two requests to get my credit report locked. So check and double check to make sure the needed changes have been made.
- Consider employing a monitoring company. There are several companies that monitor your credit reports and bank accounts and will flag you if any changes are made.
Fortunately, I was able to report everything within just a few days of the fraudulent activity. So far all of my money has been refunded by my bank and I have not been held accountable for any charges made on fraudulently opened accounts.
Although it’s been a lot of hassle, I consider this a success story. I hope you never have to use these recommendations. Preventative measures, including good Internet security, are a good place to start. But if you do wind up a victim of identity theft, I hope these tips help you quickly gain control again and restore your peace of mind.
I work for Trend Micro and opinions expressed here are my own.