The Dark Side of Identity Theft as Told by Victims (Part 1 of 2)

This is part one of a two part identity theft series.

Identity theft can take several forms and has sparked fear in millions of people. One of the most terrifying aspects of identity theft is the fact that there is no way to guarantee you won’t become a victim. There are, however, steps and precautions you can take to lessen your risk of identity theft. Here are two real stories of identity theft told by the victims themselves:

Veonne A.: “It was the scariest, most inconvenient thing to happen to us. . .”

“My husband and I experienced identity theft at a Starbucks coffee shop. My husband was on a lunch break and left his wallet sitting on a table after going to get his coffee and left out to return to work. The wallet had both of our licenses, debit cards, and social security cards in them. The person who stole our identities went to buy liquor (it was New Year’s Eve), went to go apply for credit cards, and tried to use my husband’s transit card. When we reported it to Target (where he tried to open a credit card account online) they saw it was fraud, but the police did nothing about it. It was the scariest, most inconvenient thing to happen to us because we just had a baby 30 days before it happened.

We found out when my husband got a Chase bank alert of alcohol being purchased through his transaction text message alerts. Then, we eventually checked our emails some weeks later on Credit Karma and saw that they tried to open credit card accounts online. We tried to fix the issue by filing a police report, but they did nothing when we got information from Target which reported that it was identity theft. We just put a hold on our SS numbers.

Never carry your social security card in your wallet. You really don’t need to carry it on a day-to-day basis. Put it in a safe or a place where you secure important documents. Be sure to double check that you have all your belongings before leaving public places. This simple action could have protected us and would have given us a peace of mind. Make sure to have transaction alerts sent to your phone for each bank account you have. Thanks to this, we were alerted so we could put a freeze on our account. This can save you a lot of time and money. Check your credit report often so you can check for any activity that you are not aware of.”

Sheri B.: “Now, I understand your identity can be stolen just from people having your data. . .”

“I’ve been the victim of identity theft twice, once when I was in college (30 years ago) and once more recently.
 
The first time, it was the standard ‘my wallet was stolen’ though in my case because my SSN was my student ID number (they don’t allow that anymore in California) someone got a job using my SSN in a different area of the state. It wasn’t until five years later when I applied for pregnancy-related disability leave I found out. I reported it to the IRS, and of course, the IRS immediately sent me a bill for that person’s unpaid taxes.
 
More recently a friend of a now ex-boyfriend got onto my computer and stole my SSN off my turbotax. He used it to open up several accounts and racked up about $3,000 in bills in my name. Since that occasion, I’ve put my credit on fraud watch and check my score with Credit Karma at least once a month.
 
Because my ID has been part of a couple of data breaches (government background check and Home Depot), I am pretty religious about now keeping my data as secure as possible. My hard drive is encrypted. I put passwords on the PDF files of my tax returns. I would never, ever do an all-online tax return (electronic filing is okay).
 
I did not seek professional help other than filing a police report in both cases. I fixed it by lots and lots of phone calls, affidavits, certified letters, etc., and the companies hounding me finally deleted the information off my record. I definitely wish I had thought about the social engineering aspect of it more. My concept of identity theft used to be ‘paper’ — i.e., someone steals your checkbook, someone steals a paycheck stub. Now, I understand your identity can be stolen just from people having your data, nothing tangible needs to be missing, and you don’t even find out it happened until the bills in your name go past due.”

The future of identity theft

Veonne and Sheri’s stories, although tragic, are not uncommon. Identity theft has been a major threat for years and will only continue to increase as technology advances. The future of identity theft depends on the average person’s ability to mitigate their risks. As identity theft becomes more complex, so do the precautions we need to take to stay one step ahead of the game. You can research the types of identity theft, identity theft protection companies, recent data breaches and identity theft-related news, and steps to take to avoid becoming a victim. Make sure to check out part two of this article series for additional identity theft victim stories and tips.

This article by Alayna Pehrson first appeared on BestCompany.com and was distributed by the Personal Finance Syndication Network.