Are you really who you think you are? How sure are you?
We all like to think we are in control of our lives. We feel confident that our unique identities, reputations and even our credit scores, are completely governed by our own actions. That perception is a myth and one that can get you in serious trouble.
What if your reputation or financial status is threatened by an inaccurate credit score caused by erroneously reported information? Or your personal information is stolen by an identity thief who hacked into someone else’s computer without your knowledge?
I recently received an unsettling, but all too common, phone call from a friend”After reading your Newsletter, I thought it would be a good idea to order my credit reports. I never thought I had to worry about it because I pay my bills on time.” From the tone of his voice, I knew what was coming next.
“My credit reports just came in yesterdayI’m stunnedI have over 14 accounts that aren’t mine, and not only that just this morning I received my first collection call notifying me that I owed more than $11,000 on my Sears credit card. I don’t even have a Sears credit card!”
There was the usual moment of silence. While he was still reeling from his news and the subsequent unnerving collection call, I was taking a deep breath, knowing that I was just about to make his life worse by telling him about the slew of clean-up work he now had in front of him through no fault of his own.
The truth is it is difficult to imagine the amount of time and the physical and mental energy it takes to deal with having your identity stolenuntil it happens to you! My friend quietly listened as I detailed some of the immediate steps he needed to take. At the end of the call, I asked how he felt about this unexpected credit mess he now had to face.
“Violated,” he said, “I feel like someone came into my home rummaged through my house…and they weren’t invited!”
Identity theft (or inaccurate credit reporting) is often exacerbated by the fact that consumers typically don’t review their credit reports or take any steps to prevent ID theft due to the false belief that they aren’t vulnerable to fraud. For example, consumers may boldly state;
“I don’t have to worry about identity theft because I live in a small town like Mayberry, RFD!”
“I only use one credit card so I don’t have to worry about it.”
“I only use cash or my debit card.”
“I don’t have to be concerned about my credit -I have excellent credit.”
The reality is data breaches continue to happen and thieves continue to find new methods to hijack, then sell our personal information. It’s been reported that 10,000,000 people will have their identities stolen this year and recent studies show 1 in 4 credit reports contain inaccurate and damaging data that will cause consumers to pay higher interest rates, insurance premiums, lost employment and rental opportunities and face humiliating denials of credit.
Once upon a time, our personal information was just that ours and personal!
We needed only to fret about safeguarding our wallets, credit cards and check books making sure they remained in our physical possession. That’s not the case anymore. You may think you live in “Mayberry RFD” but you are just as vulnerable as someone living in a large city. If you provide your personal information to anyone; visit restaurants, doctors, dentists, travel, go to college, pay for car or health insurance, secure a loan, pay property taxes, purchase cars, homes, or ultimately -simply exist on this planet -you are at risk. Period.
Private businesses, universities, local, state and federal entities all have data bases that thieves view as precious as gold they are hot commodities! When crooks, thieves, and hackers gain access to one of these databases filled with your personal informationit’s as though the thief has physical possession of you hence your life.
Thieves can sell your information multiple times to multiple buyers. When thieves use a young child’s Social Security Number to gain employment or credit, that particular SSN can be bought and sold for as long as it goes undetected. By the time the child is old enough to notice his/her identity has been stolen their credit has been all but destroyed and can take years to reclaim.
How was my friend’s identity stolen?
Here’s the answer…in his words.
“In ’98 I had a Sears department store credit card.
I never used it.
They stopped sending me statements, etc. and I forgot about it.
It was later converted from a department store card into a Sears Master Card.
Someone breached the TJ Max (Sears affiliate) computer and stole credit card files. They then went online and ordered a new card to be sent to them in a different state (MA) under my name and SSN. In 5 days they charged $11,775.25. I did not hear about it until last Saturday when the collection agency called me.
I’m annoyed by the fact that Sears did such a poor job of protecting my information. I had not received an invoice or any correspondence from them in eight years but my information was kept on file and obviously not adequately protected.
The lessons to be learned: Look for and close out any old accounts and do not rely on others to safeguard your information!”
RememberIt’s much easier to be proactive when protecting your credit and identity than to be reactive once “you’ve” been stolen.