Interview with Jill S., identity theft victim and Patriot Privacy and Security Society Member:
You had your identity stolen; walk us through how they got your information.
I bought a house, and I always said if I had a big house, I would be a foster parent.
So, I did get a house with a small inheritance, and became a foster parent.
He needed his own furniture for his bedroom, so we bought a mattress then went to St Vinnies to get the bed and end table and other things. A man there loaded the items in my van. He said he would help with unloading. I declined.
I thought it over, as I was having issues with setting up cable TV and VCR, etc. So I took the note with his mane and called the police. They said his record was clear for a few years. Many work there after halfway house I guess. So no issue here. He did come and set up the house. He did some odd jobs over the summer. Then just before Labor Day, I had funds missing, but was able to account for them.
Then just before Thanksgiving, I checked my bank balance before going to the store. And it was overdrawn over $2,000 dollars. It was a Saturday morning, but there was someone there at the credit union yet. We went over my account, and the check withdrawals had just started. She asked me what checks were mine. I was actually on another book of checks, and none were my spending.
Turned out there was a full book of checks gone from the middle of the stack. So we stopped payment on the whole 25, and started a huge stack of paperwork to press charges. Now part of this paperwork was where I signed my name over and over again. You see, sometimes they may be a part of it, so always have to clear yourself first. Money had even been withdrawn on my own bank. No one asked for a drivers license.
Then I went through the process of calling all the merchants who took my checks, to advise them to flag my account. Fortunately, most of these places I never went.
If I would, my checks would not be taken and I would be very embarrassed at the checkout. One merchant customer service actually said, no big deal, we have insurance to cover this. You mean like a sale is a sale? But most calls were a big strain.
The money was returned to my account, but being short for a while on funds almost put me in foreclosure. This is not a pretty process, and can be long drawn out. I met with a detective who had a 6 inch stack of papers on the case. I did not recognize names or faces. But I did share everything I could come up with that could possibly help.
A lady I had known came to me and said she thinks she saw this man at a store with a woman using my check. It was the break we needed. I went over to his apartment and in the back, there was a few check deposit slips in the back where they parked. Now we had persons of interest.
Within months, they had stopped him in another county on a traffic matter, and then arrested him. In the end, there was 5 people involved.
What did they do with your identity? What did they buy?
All was done through the stolen checks. They bought electronics and kids toys mostly.
How did you find out that your identity was stolen?
When I went to check my balance and saw I was overdrawn. I did not shop online or bank online at that time either.
Did you ever find out who did it? Do you know anything about the perpetrators?
Yes, the whole group was caught and i did remember the one person. He was probably the one who took the checks, but not doing the shopping parts.
How long did it take to recover from this ID theft?
The return of funds was soon as I reported it right away. But the calls and further issues went on for a couple years, even after I changed my banking. I still run into this now after 10 years, with stores who never removed the flag as I never shopped there. So, I usually walk out, call their main office to try to straighten it out . Or I just never go back there.
What resources helped you through this terrible episode?
The credit union and police department were very helpful. And without the one lady coming forward, it would have even taken much longer maybe.
Do you have good credit now?
Yes, very good credit fortunately.
What advice would you have for anyone that has had their ID stolen?
It is not being paranoid to check who you deal with. You have to take the wheel to be vigilant about your financial business, as sadly there are those who are predators. The internet is a wonderful tool but you need to be cautious on steps to take to protect yourself. These reports will be instrumental tools to learn the how and the what. Some of this I already learned the hard way, and much was good info to protect myself even more.
What advice would have for anyone trying to prevent an ID theft?
If in doubt, don’t. You see or feel anything strange about the transaction, stop and back out.
Go online to check out the website or Better Business Bureau. Learn what helps to prevent theft and use the advice. If you ever see your check statement checks out of order, or missing a check, look into it. Apparently I was advised that a common tactic is to take a check out of the middle of a pack so its not noticed right away. It can be a friend of a friend or acquaintance. Don’t share your passwords or debit card info with anyone. No one should ever ask either.
Are there any resources that you use now to prevent an ID theft?
Yes, much harder passwords, use different ones. Better Business Bureau at times.
Using only my home PC when I shop online or access my emails or bank accounts.
Never use my cell phone to do this.
Keeping checks and cards safe on me, and in the house.
If you could do one thing different in this whole episode, what would it be and why?
Go with my gut feelings.
Do you think protections are better now as opposed to when you were victimized? What has changed?
Yes, as scams and rip offs are more common knowledge so people are aware of pitfalls. And no, there seems to be a new wrinkle all the time. So keeping knowledgable and up to date is necessary.