By Louise Bolger
Identity theft - it could happen to you
sun staff writer
Whens the last time you received a phone call from
a company youve 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
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, well 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
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.