Everyone Can Use My Credit Except Me

If you followed me on Twitter yesterday, you know I was at the Apple store trying to purchase an iPhone. I bounced in about 1PM, and after talking to a couple of store reps decided to take the plunge. What followed next was the longest 2.5 hours of my day.

I’m going to link you to the back story, which I hope you will DIGG because that post has worthwhile information on credit fraud (more prevalent in the United States).

Continuing with this story, let’s just say I forgot that all my accounts are locked due to “credit fraud protection”. Ryan the Apple store rep had just walked me through most of the “interview” process for my purchase when he received some sort of flag on his point-of-sale unit. He had to call AT&T to port over my number from Sprint, and next thing you know my phone rang.

At the time, I ignored the call as Caller ID was “unknown”, and I was in the middle of this store purchase. Ryan proceeds to tell me that it was the AT&T rep, and she needed to speak with me. No problem I thought, until she called back AND MY PHONE DIED. Twitter followers know that I have been holding off on getting an iPhone, but my Sprint phone had been on its last leg for a few weeks. So there I was in the Apple store, trying to make my purchase, and I couldn’t because AT&T had no way to contact me.

It was then that I realized I had been possessed by the Cult of Mac. I was not leaving the store without a working phone, an iPhone specifically. I scrambled to get a USB cable from another store rep so we could get power to the phone. Got it. Asked the AT&T rep to call back, and when I picked up we got disconnected. Ryan asked the rep to call again, and she stated she had exceeded the number of courtesy calls she could make on an account. Holy crabcakes! Say it wasn’t so.

Ryan patiently spent the next 2 hours calling AT&T talking to a different account exec each time in an effort to get my service ported from Sprint. If my phone wasn’t sending the calls directly to voicemail, I was wrestling with the inordinate number of questions to prove my identity. Remember a few paragraphs back when I said I forgot about the credit hold on my accounts? Those holds are supposed to make it difficult for other people to assume my identity. Didn’t seem to matter much last week when someone attempted to buy a car in my name, but there I was making a legitimate purchase, and I couldn’t answer half the questions.

Finally, after the 6th call to yet another AT&T rep, my Sprint phone stayed connected on the call, AND I got five questions I could directly answer. Weathered & weary, I paid my dues to the Apple rep, shook his hand, and headed out the door.

I’ll be sharing my experiences with the iPhone in an upcoming post. Be sure to tune in as this adventure has only just begun.

Technology… Equalizer or Divider?

I recently stumbled upon a thread in Twitter, an apparent flame war between several patrons of Twitterland. It didn’t affect me personally, but I was drawn in by the vile language and extreme rage being thrown out on both sides. At different points in the threads I read, links were tossed out as “evidence” to backup statements, followed by more links as counter-arguments to accusations.

Then my wife walked into my office with baby girl in her arms…

My daughter will grow up in a technological age unlike anything I or my parents could have imagined. The Internet connects citizens around the world, and information exchange is so quick only telepathy would be faster. While I admire our advances, and the geek in me loves all the gadgets & technical wizardry, I worry about the challenges my daughter will face.

Cyber-bullying. Cyber-stalkers. Identity thieves. Some of these items weren’t even around when I was a teenager. People ask me why I don’t use an alias online, why I make it a point to use my real name on message boards or social networks. First, I generally won’t post something online I wouldn’t say in person, and second I’ve done what I can to establish my actual identity online in hopes it will deter others from pretending to be me. (Not that you would want to do that, I’m really not all that hip) I’ve already been the victim of identity theft.

In eight years it may be next to impossible to tell our daughter “No, you don’t need a cell phone.” I certainly didn’t think an eight year old needed one several years ago, but now “tweens” as they are called seem to be getting younger & younger. There was an article on MSNBC that talked about “Grade-school Lolitas“, how parents are facing the challenges of stemming off a constant tide of media & Internet information that is out there unfiltered. My 7 year old niece thinks she’s fat. Why in the world is a 7 year old concerned about body image?

I dealt with bullies when I was growing up, but they were tangible flesh obstacles I learned to overcome. A quick wit, weight training, Saturday night kung fu and a big dog were all I needed to tackle the bullies of my day. How do I prepare my daughter for an onslaught of cyber accusations or candid images & videos? And it’s not just “kids being kids” or harmless fun, adults are being harrassed as well. Ariel Waldman wrote a post about Twitter harrassment back in May 2008.

Today’s Twitter flame war reminded me just how easy it is for people to horribly abuse technology.

What You Should Know About Identity Theft

What You Should Know About Identity Theft

UPDATE 9/11/2017 – Added new items to consider since the Equifax data breach.

UPDATE 11/01/2013 – Many banks have discontinued their special ID Theft programs in favor of account alerts. Check with your bank for the monitoring programs they offer.

UPDATE 4/13/2010 – I referenced Lifelock in this post, and you should be aware that they have been part of class action lawsuits more than once since 2008. As I mentioned in my post, many of the services they offer you can do yourself. Bottom line, in this digital age you have to be ever vigilante with your personal information.

Chris Pirillo posed the question yesterday, “Do you protect yourself from identity theft?

As a two-time victim of identity theft, I thought I would expand on the tips that he received via email:

1. Credit Reports – Get your free credit report from ALL THREE of the major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion via Annual Credit Report. Setup an annual reminder for these reports, and also spread them out rather than getting them all at the same time each year. I was surprised to learn that the three agencies had different information regarding my credit at the time my identity was stolen. Also consider a report from ChexSystems, which reports on checking/savings accounts in your name.

2. Credit Monitoring – Consider using free services such as Credit Karma, Credit Sesame, and Quizzle. Each has their benefits, e.g., Credit Karma includes reports from Equifax and Transunion, Credit Sesame includes identity theft insurance, there’s no reason not to sign up for all three. Your bank or credit card company may offer a service to monitor your credit reports. Most of these vendors will also give you copies of your credit reports as part of their service. American Express has Credit Secure, Bank of America has Privacy Assist, and Chase has Identity Protection.

3. Credit Protection – Rampant ID theft has created a new industry, and the front runner in protective services is LifeLock. The company offers a number of services, many of which you could do yourself, but <sarcasm>who has that kind of time?</sarcasm> They remove your name from many junk mail lists, put a “fraud alert” on your identity with all three credit reporting agencies (which only last 90 days), renew that alert for you, order your three credit reports each year, and help you contact all your banks, credit cards, etc., should your wallet ever be stolen. The advantage to using a service, “set it, and forget it.” You are paying for their service, everything offered you could do yourself for free if you choose.

4. Credit Insurance – Check with your insurance agent, or your bank. Many offer identity theft insurance. This is simply a service that helps you pay many of the legal fees associated with identity theft. It is not much in terms of money, but every bit helps.

5. Freeze Your Credit – there are debates about the security vs convenience of freezing your credit. If you do not have any immediate need to have credit for purchases such as a home, car, or need a new line of credit then a freeze probably makes sense. Know that you’ll receive a PIN number to help unfreeze your account. Know that you shouldn’t lose that PIN.

6. Secure your Social Security account – Yes, there’s an online window to your social security account. Best you login and secure it before someone decides to do that. https://www.ssa.gov/

7. Secure your IRS account – Tax fraud, i.e., someone filing a return as you to get a refund, has been on the uptick for the past few years. Do what you can to secure your IRS account. https://www.irs.gov/individuals/get-transcript

8. Get a Google Voice number – Consider a Google Voice number for securing accounts instead of your cell phone, especially if you use text/voice two-factor authentication. If you don’t already have a GV number the upside is you can use it ONLY for your bank and credit accounts. Less likely to be spoofed like an actual cell number.

9. Secure your cell phone account – while not fool-proof, adding a PIN to your cellular account is helpful in thwarting attempts to access by identity thieves. In some cases you can turn off online access to accounts, which while inconvenient means potential threats have to be done in-person at a retail location.

10. Use a password manager – If you’re not already using a password manager then consider 2017 your year to upgrade. Plenty of options to choose from in another article I wrote about apps for non-technical folks.

But what happens if you still become victim of identity theft? Here are some things nobody told me:

1. File a Police Report – The moment you are aware of the ID theft, file a police report. This makes an official record of the event, which will only help you when talking to the bank or credit card agency to remove charges.

2. Put a Fraud Alert on Your Accounts – If you’re using a service such as LifeLock, this has already been done. If not, you can contact the three credit reporting agencies (see above) and enable the fraud alert. A fraud alert means any request for credit requires your written signature. This makes it harder (but not impossible) for someone to request credit via the Internet or over the phone. It also means more hoops for you to jump through when you are the one legitimately applying for the loan.

3. ICE Your Credit – CNN posted an article about Emergency Contacts back in February. The article had some information about the new ICE initiative. The basic idea is making emergency contact info readily available on your cell phone, and a free ICE website also provides laminated wallet emergency contact cards. I use a similar approach with my credit card info. I have a laminated wallet card with the phone numbers of all the accounts I would need to contact in case my identity is stolen. I do not keep this card in my wallet — it does me know good if I get robbed — instead I carry it separate in my pocket. I also have the numbers programed in my phone for access. The benefit of the laminated card? It’s water proof, doesn’t need batteries, and anyone can use it in the event I’m incapacitated. Oh, and I also carry an ICE card.

4. Don’t Blame The Internet – Despite what most people think, email & phishing scams are not the only sources of identity theft. I would say that they’re not even the largest sources. When I moved to Dallas, it was the number one city in the country for ID Theft. Some examples of how ID’s were stolen: mailbox theft, credit card skimming (using a device to record your credit card number), ATM decoys, and best of all companies that do not correctly secure or destroy personal records. In terms of ID Theft, Liz Pulliam Weston wrote an article suggesting we could learn something from Europeans.

If you’re not concerned about identity theft, you should be. Here’s a thought, it’s not the financial impact of identity theft that’s the potentially the most damaging, but the ability of someone to use your identity to commit a crime. Criminal Identity Theft does not go away overnight, and can follow you for years. Victims of Criminal ID Theft find themselves in constant struggle to prove their innocence. I could not find the original article, but I read years ago of a woman who had three official court documents for her state, and she still would occasionally end up in jail for warrants that were not her. (Apparently, Judges do not work on weekends.)

OK, if you’re a first time reader, then you can see I have a tendency to ramble on quite a bit. I hope the information proves useful to you, and you never find yourself in a position where $75k is spent on your company’s corporate account in your name.

I don’t normally ask, but please share this post if you found the information useful. Thank you.

Identity Theft Ring Busted

Well, it looks like I wasn’t alone with my financial troubles this month. Three people have been accused of running the largest identity theft in history – more than 30,000 people had their credit information stolen.

I caught a portion of the story just a minute ago on Good Morning America. The scary part is the U.S. District Attorney could offer little in new information to protect yourself from this crime. So here’s my two cents:

Get your credit report from ALL THREE of the major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. This will provide you with the most comprehensive picture of your current credit history. I’ve said it many times before, but I’ll point it out again – if you’ve got good credit get yourself an American Express card. If you already have one go here: http://www.americanexpress.com/creditsecure

Credit Secure through America Express will provide you with DAILY monitoring of your credit accounts AND a quarterly report from ALL THREE of the credit reporting agencies. Other credit card carriers might have similar services, but I am not familiar with them.

The key thing is to know your credit history and check it at least four times a year. According to Good Morning America some people are victims of identity fraud almost two years before they discover a problem.

In one month someone purchased over $25k worth of stuff using my name. Imagine what two years might have been like.

UPDATE – Another suggestion I forgot to mention. I keep a lamenated wallet card with any important phone number (medical contacts, credit card 800#s, etc) on me at all times. I also have a detailed phone list in my home so I don’t have to rummage through bank & card statements in the event of fraud. That saved me a lot of time earlier this month.