5 Steps If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

by | Feb 9, 2007 | Cash Flow, Weekly Column

“We can’t go on together, with suspicious minds.” Elvis recorded this song by Mark James, with its reprimand to a jealous sweetheart, in 1969. If he were writing it today, James might need to revise the lyrics. Maybe they should be, “We can do business together, with suspicious minds.”

I’m really not that much of a cynic, at least about sweethearts. I certainly do endorse suspicion in other areas, though, especially when it comes to identity theft. This is something we read about and hear about, but that we assume won’t happen to us. It recently did happen, however, to one of my clients.

It started when he received his new Discover card in the mail. The problem was, he hadn’t ordered a Discover card. I’ve also received such cards in the past and have chosen to cut them up and throw them away. This is not the right response; it’s exactly what the scammer is hoping you will do.

Fortunately for my client, he didn’t just toss the card. He called Discover Card to inquire. Discover told him that he indeed had applied for the card on line. When they asked him to confirm his birthday and his mother’s maiden name, the information didn’t match their records. Someone else had applied for the card in his name.

He learned that several months earlier a company he did business with had had its computer system hacked. The names, mailing addresses and Social Security numbers of about 50,000 people were compromised. The hackers used that information to apply for new credit cards.

From there, the scam works like this: The hackers hope the victim throws away the card. Several weeks later, they call the card company to report that they didn’t receive the card, probably because they have recently moved. They have the replacement card sent to their “new” address. When it arrives, they’re off to Rodeo Drive or to the Internet on a major shopping spree.

According to my wisely suspicious client, the worst part of this experience was all the time he had to spend on the phone to get it taken care of.

If something similar happens to you, here are some steps you can take:

1. First of all, act immediately. Be suspicious. In this situation, over-reacting can be your friend.

2. Call the credit card company. Close the suspect account, and also enlist the company’s help in fighting the fraud.

3. File a report with your local police.

4. Contact one of the three credit reporting companies and put a fraud alert on your account. These are Equifax (800-525-6285, www.equifax.com), Experian (888-397-3742, www.experian.com), and TransUnion (800-680-7289, www.transunion.com). You only have to contact one company, which is then required to contact the others.

You can obtain a temporary, 90-day fraud alert, which is appropriate if you think you might be vulnerable to identity theft because your wallet has been stolen or your information hacked from a website. If you are a victim of identity theft, you can obtain a seven-year fraud alert.

5. Contact the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft//. This site has detailed information on how to protect yourself against identity theft, including useful brochures you can download or request by mail. There is also material on what to do if you think your identifying information has been stolen. It includes instructions and forms for reporting fraud and filing fraud alerts.

The bottom line here is, “Don’t listen to Elvis on this one.” Certainly, you want trust and openness in your relationships. When it comes to protecting yourself against identity theft, however, a suspicious mind is an asset. Develop one.

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