That was a newspaper headline from the Edmonton Journal. Yes, sensationalism sells, but this time, the quote was accurate and justified.
The story was about a young lady from Edmonton, who had her wallet stolen out of her car, and became a victim of identity theft.
When her wallet was stolen four months earlier she has simply called her credit card company to cancel her card and also had her drivers’ license replaced. But that was just the beginning of her nightmare of identity theft.
Along the way, she was actually investigated for fraud, and went through a virtual hell in having her bank accounts cleaned out. She discovered her identity theft while trying to make a purchase at Walmart. When she used her debit card, the cashier told her no, there wasn’t sufficient money. She tried her credit card next, and it was also declined.
When she called her bank from the parking lot, they asked her if she had just opened a new account at another branch? No, she hadn’t. But someone had, and used her identity. It got worse, since the crook deposited empty envelopes in the ATM machines, and stole another $10,000 out of her accounts from these phony deposits, off this new and fraudulent account.
The credit bureau wouldn’t help her on the phone, and I’m stunned she was even able to reach a human being at Equifax Canada. The only thing they told her was that SHE was now under investigation for fraud.
Then came the calls from the collections departments of Esso and Shell, Home Hardware and Sears, the financed van, and more – none of which were hers. And that was in between the trips to the police station and banks. All in all, the crooks used her identify to run up more than $100,000 in charges. The lenders and banks absorbed the losses, but you have to believe that a break-in at home would be less scary or frightening than identity theft.
As this lady found out, studies have shown that it takes an average of more than 30 to 150 hours of work for someone who has been a victim of identity theft. And that doesn’t include the anger, fear, credit hassles, and psychological trauma.
Oh, and one more thing that you probably don’t want to hear: It didn’t apply to this lady, but the vast majority of identity theft is committed by someone you know. While you can’t entirely prevent identity theft, you can take some easy steps to make your odds pretty tiny:
-Do not give anyone your PIN numbers
-Don’t use the same PIN number everywhere, and do change it every six months or so
-Have as little ID as you need in your wallet. You do NOT need your Social Insurance -Number in your wallet every day, and don’t need all your credit and debit cards with you every hour of every day
-Do not leave any I.D. in your car – ever.
-Empty your mailbox every day. Junk mail or credit card mailers have a lot of information on them
-Get a shredder. Do not put your personal information in your garbage.
-Check your credit report. You are entitled to a free report once a year. Pay for it if you need it more often to see if there is something weird happening
-Know your credit card statement dates. If it doesn’t show up, make the call. It may have been re-directed by the crooks
-Always check the transactions on your credit card and bank statements
-Never give out personal information on the phone or on an e-mail
And if you have been a victim of identity theft, your first visit is to the police station to file a report. No matter who it was, if you know, you will be liable if you do not file the report. Don’t protect a crooked friend or relative, because you will be liable if you haven’t taken the first step of proving these were not your transactions.