Vol 7 No. 2 - October 4, 2006

Identity theft - it could happen to you
By Louise Bolger
sun staff writer

When’s the last time you received a phone call from a company you’ve done business with informing you that all of your personal records with them have been stolen. Never happened to you? Well, it happened to me.

On the evening of Sept. 20, after an exhausting gym workout, my husband and I dragged our old bones home, planning nothing more exciting than a glass of wine and dinner. What we got was a phone call from the general manager of the car dealership in Tampa where we had just leased a car two months ago. He regretfully informed us that the business office of the dealership was broken into two nights earlier and the only things taken were customer files, 148 customer files, ours being one of them.

Not only was he apologetic, but he also offered advice and suggestions about the steps that needed to be taken to help protect ourselves from identity theft. He provided phone numbers and walked us through the recommended procedure and was patient and forthcoming about every detail of the crime.

The next two hours were a blur of phone calls to consumer reporting companies, internet forms, help lines, cancelling of credit cards and making lists of what else needed to be done the next day when the business world woke up. By the time I was able to sit down and have that first glass of wine, my head was spinning and I was feeling like I was hit by a truck without the bruising.

Identity theft is the fastest growing crime in the country. In fact I was told by my car dealership friend, that one in four individuals are victims of identity theft. Since maintaining a good credit score is vital if you ever plan on applying for a mortgage, not to mention any other form of credit, it is up to you as a consumer to protect yourself.

The first thing we did was place a fraud alert on our credit reports. This can be done by calling one of the three consumer reporting companies; Equifax (800-525-6285), Experian (888-397-3742), and TransUnion (800-680-7289). You only need to call one of the three companies, and they are required to advise the other two. The process is quick, easy and free done over the phone in a couple of minutes. The fraud alert is in effect for 90 days and during that time you should check your credit report at least once.

The next thing is to have your accounts monitored for a year. We signed up for Equifax Credit Watch 3 in 1 Monitoring, which monitors all three reporting companies. This is not free, and costs $129.95 for a married couple. They accept credit cards assuming that not all your credit cards have been compromised. The car dealership offered to pay for this and promptly sent us a check. Beyond this depends on what type of information may have landed into the hands of the bad guys. We had conversations with our bank, stockbroker and any direct deposit income sources.

Next week, we’ll talk more about what can happen to you if your identity has been stolen, what you can do to protect yourself and how it can negatively impact your ability to get financing.

From this point on, the only thing to do is stay alert to changes on credit reports and existing bank and credit card accounts. It may also help to say a prayer or two and uncork another bottle of wine.

AMISUN ~ The Island's Award-Winning Newspaper