A victim of a stolen license and credit cards finds herself in a never-ending circle of questions about how her information is being used.
Identity theft is a confusing and disturbing situation to be involved in. Once it happens, you have to deal with it for the rest of your life. My name is Victoria Neeb and my identity has been stolen.
I remember July 15, 2008, like it was yesterday. I felt on top of the world. I had just graduated college and moved to Washington D.C. Then I learned a harsh life lesson: always carry a bag with a zipper, especially on public transit.
After a long, delayed, crowded and exhausting commute to work one day, I discovered my driver’s license, debit card, and two credit cards were missing from my wallet. To this day, I don’t know what happened, but the cards were there when I got on the train. Are identity thieves so smooth they can take what they want out of my wallet and return it without me knowing? In the few hours the thieves spent more than $2,000 on gas, Metro fare cards, and electronics. I know you may be mumbling about how stupid I am under your breath. Luckily, I was able to file a local police report, cancel my cards, get reimbursed by my financial institutions, and obtain a new license. Eventually, July 15, 2008, became just a bad memory and I moved on.
Flash forward to August 4, 2011. While I was on a business trip to a Callahan Leadership CFO Roundtable in Orlando, I got a call from my bank that they suspended my card due to suspicious activity. To have it turned back on, I had to visit a local branch and have a staff member call the customer service line. I was so irritated. I was in Florida, not Europe! What is so suspicious about Orlando? Did I really need to let them know every time I left the state?
I had every intention on stomping into the branch, yelling, closing my account, and taking my business elsewhere. As the representative talked to the person on the line, his face went blank. “Ms. Neeb, I think you need to speak with our fraud department,” he said.
It turns out, two fraudulent accounts were opened in my name, using my social security number, my stolen license number, and my personal information including my university email and mailing addresses. The accounts used a different address than my primary address at the time, prompting it to change all of my active account information. The IP address linked to a computer in South Korea!
Two days later I got a random call from E* Trade Financial welcoming me to my new account. Only I didn’t open an account there. At least the thief was stupid enough to use my active cellphone number so I was aware of it.
I immediately thought back to July 15, 2008, when some horrible person sold my identity and I realized these new issues were probably related to that. I felt violated. How could this happen? How many Victoria Neebs are in the world now? Are underage people using my ID to buy alcohol? Are they applying for loans? Credit cards? Opening new bank accounts? Committing insurance fraud? The possibilities seemed endless.
My bank could help me close the fraudulent accounts, close my current accounts, and open new ones. But no one could give me any more advice.
To this day, I’m still lost. The local police didn’t give me much advice. I placed alerts on my credit reports, and continue to check them. The part I’m still struggling with is not knowing what other accounts are out there. My credit report came back fine, but there was no hit from Bank of America or E* Trade (where an additional account was opened) on my credit report. Are there other accounts open in my name?
Credit unions can work closely with members in similar situations. What do you do to help a member who’s struggling with the aftermath of identity theft? Aside from government paperwork, police reports, and credit alerts, what else should you advise someone to do to protect their identity moving forward?
Many financial institutions have partnered with companies to provide members monthly “memberships” to help monitor their identity after a fraud. They may also offer identity theft assistance services free to their members.
Westmark Credit Union ($478M, Idaho Falls, ID) offers recovery services for all adult members if they find themselves as a victim of identity theft. The service puts members in contact with the Victim Assistance Center, has fraud alerts posted, serves as a liaison between the victim and all institutions involved and more.
Genisys Credit Union ($1.4B, Pontiac, MI) offers the Identity Theft 911 service, at no cost to members. Identity Theft 911 provides fraud specialists to assist with proactive services, resolution services, and document replacement assistance.
Westmark CU and Genisys CU are just two examples of how credit unions help their members during a scary and confusing time. What support and advice do you offer your members that fall victim to identity theft? Or how do you help them prevent the fraud in the first place?