Having a name like Athanassie requires me to spell it, each time I give it to someone on the phone. In my opinion, if I pronounce it properly, that should qualify as adequate security clearance s they could skip all those other identifying questions. My hope is if an identity thief ever tried to use it, they’d mispronounce it so badly, their credit application would be instantly declined. Of course, I’m kidding. Almost all credit applications today are being completed online so a thief would not have to actually speak to anyone while doing their dirty work. In fact, this is why stealing someone’s identity in today’s online world is so easy.
So play along with me and imagine this scenario: You spot an odd transaction on your credit card and you call the credit card company to find out what’s up. As they are asking you the regular security questions like your name, address and phone number, the person on the other end of the phone says they cannot provide you any additional information. You ask why and they indicate the information you provided does not match their files and they promptly end the call. Welcome to the dark world of identity takeover.
Identity takeover is not as common as the other kind of identity theft, account takeover. In contrast to account takeover, identity takeover is significantly more serious and often, more difficult to resolve. Depending on how long it’s been in the works, it could be like untangling a spider’s web.
An experienced identity thief is in a very powerful position if they have acquired several data points on you – your Social Security number, your driver’s license, home address, phone numbers, credit card and checking account number. Armed with your personal details, a skilled thief can establish NEW accounts in your name with a NEW mailing address, along with logins and passwords, that they set up. The statements never come to you and you don’t have any knowledge of the new accounts. Unfortunately, this scam could go on undetected for a long time. Then, if and when you discover it, you’ll be tasked to prove that you are who you say you are. In the most extreme cases, you may have to fight with creditors, collection agencies and deal with the court system. It could take months to resolve this, so it pays to take steps to prevent it from happening and to know what to do if it does.
If you are a target of identity takeover, IdentityTheft.gov is the best place to start. It is a free service provided by the Federal Trade Commission. You should go to this site to report the theft and create a recovery plan.
While it is possible for the thief to falsify much of your personal data when establishing new accounts, like a new address or phone number, the one piece of data that they cannot change is your Social Security number. Your Social Security number is one of the most vital pieces of personal data and it is directly tied to your credit report. This is why as soon as you suspect something is up, you should contact one of the three credit bureaus and put a fraud alert on your credit report. The credit bureau that you contact is required to notify the other two. There is no cost to do this and it will make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name. Once you place an alert on your credit report, companies must verify your identity before it issues new credit in your name. The alert lasts 90 days and can be extended beyond 90 days.
Another alternative is to place a credit or security freeze on your credit report. There is generally a small fee to put this in place (around $10), but this provides a more permanent solution to lock down your credit. It is designed to prevent credit, loans and services from being approved in your name without your consent. Adding a security freeze to your credit report may delay or interfere with or prohibit the timely approval of any applications you make regarding new credit. When you add a security freeze you will be issued a Personal Identification Number (PIN) which will be required in order to remove the freeze from your credit report either temporarily or permanently.
In my final installment on identity theft, I’ll outline some ideas on how to protect yourself and the people you care about. I would appreciate your feedback on this post.
Blog Extra: In the “what were we thinking” department…do you remember paying by check at the grocery store and the cashier asking for your Social Security number? Not only would people provide it, the cashier would jot it down in the memo section of the check for everyone to see.