Life is full of valuable lessons. Here is one that still impacts me today.
A few articles ago.. I touched base on the fact that I am a (very real) victim of identity theft. Before you laugh it off (like I did) and say “it can’t happen to me” I want you to know that it probably will. In fact, it will happen right in front of you, when you think everything is perfectly fine. With all these major companies announcing data breaches over and over again. We are now in the age of an identity crisis. I want to take a moment to tell my story, and help others who may be going through what I am. Even how to fight back.
For many years, I worked diligently to establish and build my credit history, and score. The process was tedious, but well worth it. I learned that being responsible, and being on time was the key to making all of my dreams come true. When you have good credit… Almost anything seems possible.. Sadly, it doesn’t take long for the ability to borrow just about anything can all come crashing down into nothing.
A theif walks into any post office and grabs a change of address form.. Perhaps, even does it online.. Then temporarily forwards and opens your mail. Any checks, bills, statements, or cards fall into the hands of the theif. Meanwhile, you are left thinking, “hmm no mail today” When in actuality this thief is mining your paperwork for sensitive details they can use for their own personal gain. - Yes. It’s happened to me.
You drive up to an ATM, or are shopping at your favorite store, or coffee shop. Everything looks fine in plain sight. However, a thief had previously installed a “skimming” device to steal the number off your card(s). Ever get a weird charge? Even for a little amount? That just doesn’t make sense? Yeah.. They probably got you. - Yes. It’s happened to me.
Using a genuine social security number. A thief can file a phony tax return, Obtain a license, Get medical treatment, and even commit crimes that have nothing to do with you. Yes- It’s partially happened to me. I will explain how I know later.
So what are the odds of this actually happening to you as well? Well.. That’s when things get a little frightening.. 1 billion records were leaked in 2014. 13 million consumers fell victim to identity theft in 2015.. 50 million (twice now) on facebook. Yes, even the actual credit reporting agency (Equifax) was breached. That’s not counting all the other hotels, businesses, ect. That don’t report it. It truly is a serious problem. The more I research it, the more I realize how bad the odds really are.
How did I know that I was a victim? Well.. I started to notice network problems on my computers.. Then my mail went missing.. I decided to check my credit report. What I saw startled me. My score was 749 for the longest time. I had never missed a payment, carried a sufficient balance, and was up to date on all my loans. However, my score was dropping… (pretty fast too) I started noticing credit inquiries I didn’t make, mysterious addresses, new credit accounts and of course.. A score that dropped drastically.. So I signed up for a credit monitoring service called, Lifelock. However, it was too late. I started getting weird emails, calls, and calls from collection agencies. Though, life lock and my credit report helped me identify things I wouldn’t of known about otherwise.
What did I do about it? Well.. I contacted all the reporting agencies and put a “fraud alert” on all of my accounts. Unfortunately, it didn’t help much.. The identity theft was happening to the point where I couldn’t even answer my own “security questions” to unfreeze it.. Thanks to the loans people took out in other states. Also, my score was impacted to the point I cant get a loan. Somehow, someone managed to take out a mortgage in a different state .. I was blown away. Now, I have to put a freeze on to prevent anything from going through at all. Which is quite a hassle. All because I didn’t take this serious when my credit was “Excellent”
How to fix it? Well. This part takes time. However, there is hope. To clear all this up. You must contact lenders directly. File affidavits with the FTC. File police reports. Contact the social security administration and IRS. Pay attention to the warning signs. Before it’s too late.
How did it impact my life? When my mail went missing I didn’t think it was that big of a deal initially. My bank accounts had weird charges, I never disputed them. When I saw my credit report, I had heard of errors from time to time. I didn’t take these warnings very seriously. I was fortunate enough to have everything I needed. However, Later on. When it came to moving into a new apartment I started getting denied on my applications. Whenever I opened a bank account it mysteriously went negative (even though I didn’t use it) When I wanted to upgrade my motorcycle to a brand new one, I got denied for the loan. Last, and most importantly.. My business suddenly had no ability to borrow money. Which (being fairly new) really fucked me. I wasn't terribly worried about “collectors” attempting to collect money I didn’t owe. My score dropped 200+ points before I ever even truly knew it was happening.
How do I feel about it? I think it’s a shame how long it takes to go from “rags” to “riches” but how quickly “riches” turn into “rags”. I think people who do this to others caused me a lot of frustration, pain, and financial hardship that otherwise wouldn’t be there. While it’s great that “monitoring” software like credit karma, and life lock alert you these things are happening.. There is very little you can actually do to prevent it, or stop it once it’s happened, or track who’s doing it. I think that’s what my biggest mistake was.. Suddenly everyone I knew became a suspect.. The reality is.. I will leave it up to the professionals to catch my identity thief. You should too.
On a positive note. I look at things a lot more realistically, and differently. Secure my stuff more adequately. I keep the security cameras rolling. I got lawyers. Friends in high places. My life is heavily monitored, and encrypted. I have really learned a lot, and I am applying my knowledge. My attackers were vigilant. They were brave. They (temporarily) fucked me. Though it’s going to take a lot more then a “Fake ME” to stop the REAL ME. I really hope they catch you. Stay tuned.