Thursday, September 02, 2004

Identity Theft

As many of you know, identity theft is becoming an increasingly serious problem. Even people who are savvy about protecting their data can fall victim. Lynnea appears to be one such person. Fortunately, a California law enabled us to find this out early in the process...

Now, lest you think this cannot happen to you, Lynnea never enters her information online and never gives it out over the phone. I only enter it over https connections. we are still not sure where the information leak is, but the tipoff came from Capital One. Whilst in my temporary housing in Mira Mesa, I got a letter addressed to Lynnea at that address from Capital One. I almost chucked it. It's a reflex when I get a letter from a credit card company we don't have an account with. I think I'll have to stop doing that. I opened it and they just wanted to let me know that they had stopped the credit card application because one or more of the addresses on the application did not match any address in her credit history. They also gave a number to call if Lynnea did not make the application. Now, there was no way Lynnea would have made the application, so I knew something was up.

When Lynnea got here, we made the call to Cap One. The person on the other end indicated that Lynnea had been the victim of identity theft. Someone else appeared to have applied for a card in her name. He asked for her Social Security number to verify her identity, but by this point we were paranoid and refused. He asked if she had lived any place in New England other than Mass or if she had lived in New York. No on both counts. Apparently the person who applied for the card has addresses in one or both of those places. So, we had to file a police report and stop the credit card application. The Escondido Police were very helpful and gave us a pamphlet of what to do in the event your identity is stolen. Some of this stuff is good practice in general. It will make getting credit in the future a bit more of a hassle, but it's a small price to pay to protect your identity.

The first thing Lynnea and I both had to do was to contact all three credit bureaus and put a fraud alert on our accounts. This lets them know that there is some question about who has been accessing the account and puts certain restrictions on your account. Creditors must contact you before opening or modifying your accounts. They will also send you the most up to date version of your credit report to determine if any changes have been made already. Officer Padilla said that she tells everyone she cares about to do this even if they aren't the victim of fraud. The tighter restrictions force creditors to take more steps to make sure you are you when applying. Henceforth when you apply for credit, you may be asked for a photocopy of your driver's license, a utility bill, and/or other means of identifying yourself.

I recommend you do it as well. Here is the information for the credit bureaus. All three have automated systems for handling this.

To order your report, call: 800-685-1111 or write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

To report fraud, call: 800-525-6285 and write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Hearing impaired call 1-800-255-0056 and ask the operator to call the Auto Disclosure Line at 1-800-685-1111 to request a copy of your report.

To order your report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or write:
P.O. Box 2002, Allen TX 75013

To report fraud, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) and write:
P.O. Box 9530, Allen TX 75013
TDD: 1-800-972-0322

Trans Union
To order your report, call: 800-888-4213 or write:
P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022

To report fraud, call: 800-680-7289 and write:
Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634
TDD: 1-877-553-7803

Of course, I was still paranoid and not satisfied. So, I checked Capital One's web site. The phone number we called was not anywhere on the site. So, I called the Capital One main number. After dealing with a really annoying phone menu system, I finally got a live person. He was able to confirm that this is their ID theft division. So, the letter was NOT a scam. Or else an incredibly elaborate one where they have hijacked Cap One's website. :)

Anyway, Officer Padilla took a copy of the letter for the case and gave us a pamphlet on ID theft. There are fourteen suggestions for things you may need to do.

1. Contact the credit bureaus
2. Contact all your creditors with whom your name has been used fraudulently
3. If you have had stolen checks, cancel and re-open your bank account
4. If your ATM card has been stolen, get a new card, account number, and pin
5. Notify the postal inspector if you suspect the ID thief has filed a change of address
6. Contact Social Security to report fraudulent use of your number
7. If you have a passport, notify the passport office in writing to be on the lookout for anyone ordering a new passport.
8. If your phone card has been stole, cancel it and re-open the account with a password that is required for all changes.
9. Check with the DMV to see if to see if another license was issued in your name.
10. Report the crime to the police
11. If a false civil or criminal judgement has been issued against you, contact your state justice dept and the FBI
12. Consult an attorney who has a background in the Fair Credit Reporting Act if you have any problems with creditors or credit agencies.
13. Seek counseling to deal with the emotional stress of being a victim
14. Send a courtesy letter about the police report to each of the credit bureaus

Another good resource is The FTC ID Theft Page

The process from here is long and painful. We need to scrutinize our credit reports every six months for the next two years for anything out of place. We also need to make sure that all our revolving accounts, even those with 0 balance, send us monthly statements so that we know our address is still correct. Officer Padilla said that if there are no more blips for two years, we are likely out of the woods.