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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Take Control of Your Identity - Before Someone Else Does

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In other words - learn from my mistakes.  As of last week, I had my identity stolen, and some Blast-turd hacked into my PayPal account and then my bank account and tried to convert 5 transactions totalling 1845 dollars into cash.  Wrong.  "We don't have any money, dude - and you messed with the wrong person.  I hope you fry in hell and justice finds its way to your back door.  And, if you haven't heard before now - Stealing another person's identity for any reason is a Federal Crime!!! You Fool!"  What a mess it made of our life just after Thanksgiving too.  As if we don't have enough issues right now, having to deal with understanding identity theft wasn't exactly on my list of priorities - until now.

Let's see - I have talked to PayPal, the Bank, the FBI, the Secret Service, the identity theft officer for the local Sheriff's office, and if I didn't know better - the fool who tried to steal my money as well, but I'll get to that in a moment.

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It started when I opened my email, which I do every morning.  And last week that resulted in me receiving 5 emails from PayPal regarding 5 different transactions from my account.  They were for 170.00; 300.00; 375.00; 400.00, and 600.00.  All were to be paid to different individuals and one was to an Enterprise company.  All took place within minutes of each other.  All were associated with a yahoo email account.  You know, the free ones.  All of them were trying to squeeze blood from a turnip.  I had a zero balance in my PayPal account and had never used it.  PayPal, however, is attached to my personal checking account (my first mistake) and so, PayPal tried to pull the money from my checking account. 

My Bank, fortunately, never paid PayPal, but that was only after they overdrew my account (I only had 60 bucks in there to begin with), and then tacked on 5 overdraft fees of 35 dollars a piece.  I was having a good day, don't you think?  Not.  So, after filing a complaint with PayPal - 5 times - and sending them multiple Hell Raisin' emails, they started an investigation into the unauthorized transactions.  Why do these things take so long?  Why is it that you can never talk to a human being when you need one?  Why did this happen to me?  Because I am a trusting person and believe in the good of all people and don't believe it can happen to me - like most of you out there.  It can.  It will.  It does.  It stinks.

Something like this happened to me before, but never to this level.  One time, in Maryland, somebody got my credit card information and tried to buy a party's worth of Chinese Food from a Restaurant in Rockville, Maryland.  They were having a big bang of somethin' or another because they charged 200+ dollars in Chinese take-out to my account.  Fortunately, the Restaurant had a signature and a video of the stupido, so we got him.  I hope he likes the view from behind bars.  "Was the Chinese food worth it dude?"

So, here I sit, a week later, still trying to get all my money (or my overdraft) back to the positive 60 dollars I had last week.  Now for the kicker - the day all of this started, I received a phone call from some young guy (I could tell he was young by his voice and his ignorant conversation mannerisms) - probably in his 20s.  This guy asked me if I was aware that someone had tried to use my PayPal account.  Yes - I was aware.  Very aware.  Who the hell was he?  Oh he was Marcus blah blah blah and he proceeded to tell me that someone had tried to make a purchase from him at some game place using my PayPal account and my name.  Then he said that he had an entire chat that he could email to me that he claimed to have had with this guy.  (Funny how he said "guy" when I am obviously not a "guy.") 

I told him that I would like to have that information and initially thought that he was just a nice person who was caught up in this fraud as well - until I got smart and listened to what he was saying.  My next clue was when I asked him if he needed my email address.  "No" - he already had it and could send the chat to me right now.  "Oh, and how did you get my phone number?"  Uhhh, he said he looked me up on Google with information he already had.  Red flags were flyin' folks.

The more I listened to this guy, the more his freak flags were flyin' high.  He proceeded to go into this long dialog about how he knows about identity theft and how these guys go about it - I mean - he was going into "detail" about how it is done and what you can and cannot purchase online with someone else's identity.  "Interesting.  So how is it that you know all this stuff?"  - "I know it so that it doesn't happen to me."  "That's like saying you know how to steal so that nobody steals from you, right?"  (Let me go check my driver's license and make sure I wasn't born yesterday - just in case).  Or, maybe he knows how to jump off a cliff so that nobody pushes him.  Ya think? 

Then he gave me the most obvious clue of all.  "Now I can't pay my car payment," he said to me.  "Hey buddy, that's not my problem.  I've got bigger problems here - like hanging the s-o-b that stole my identity, my bank information, and tried to take me for almost 2000 dollars.  I could care less about your car payment."  Was he actually thinking that I would pay his car payment because he called me with information? (that was bogus anyway).  You've got to be kidding?  Yet, I knew that that was exactly what this guy was trying to do.  He called me to see how much I knew already and to try to play me for the money that he didn't get from my account - to pay his car payment.  And then the kicker of them all (because we all know that anyone that does this crap is bordering on ignorance beyond reason) was when he brought up again his inability to pay his car payment of - uh - get this - 170 dollars.  Ring a bell?  Ding ding ding.  One of the five transactions - and the last - was for 170 dollars.  In other words, he first tried to get 600 bucks, then 400, then 375, then 300, then probably said hell with it, this woman is broke, maybe she has 170 which is exactly what I need to make my car payment before they repossess the sheet metal.  What-da-ya think?  Are my instincts correct?  Oh, and get this.  I had the guy's cell phone number from Texas on my caller ID. 

So you know what I did?  I gave this guys information - name, mobile phone number, and the 3 emails he sent me to the FBI, the Secret Service, and the Deputy who came to my house.  When he called me again to get information, I told him in nicer terms - although I really should have said it just like this - "Marcus, put down your phone.  Bend over.  Tuck your hands behind your knees.  And kiss your ass goodbye.  I hope you spend the rest of your life behind bars."  But I didn't.  I said "Don't call me again you thief.  Talk to the Secret Service instead, I am sure they are interested in who you are."  And then I proceeded to hang up on him.  Click.

Lesson here.  Yes, there is definitely a lesson.  Oh, and one very important one I learned from the Deputy who came to my house: "Make sure your Debit and Credit Cards all have a secret access code - like a pin number - that you have to type in every time you use the card.  That way, even if the fool has your card number, your expiration date, and your code on the back of the card, he can't use it without your secret access code."  Hmmm, that makes sense dagnammit.  Oh, and the next bit advice: "Don't tie your PayPal account to an active bank account.  Ever."  Instead, open up a separate bank account altogether to link to your PayPal account.  That way, the fools never have access to your money.  Ever.  Uh, as in EVER!  Wow!  That's smart thinkin' too! 

Oh, and "Close your PayPal account, close your bank account and reopen another one, and contact the 3 credit bureaus immediately and make sure your identity hasn't been used for anything else, like applying for a mortgage or credit cards or buying a car or something."  - "You're kidding, right?"  "Nope, people will buy houses and cars using other people's identity."  - "Holy Crap!" 

So, to all my friends out there:

1) Get your free credit reports (all 3 of them) - NOW, and make sure nobody has stolen your identity and you just don't know about it yet. 

2) Change your PayPal account to link to a bank account that is never used for anything but - uh - PayPal.

3) Make sure that all of your credit and debit cards have a secret access code that nobody knows but YOU.

4) And, if your identity is stolen, you need to contact:

    a. The Bank
    b. The Credit Card Company
    c. The FBI
    d. The Secret Service (part of the Division of Homeland Security)
    e. The identity theft division and/or fraud division of your local police or sheriff's office
    f. All 3 Credit Bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union.

If you have any additional information that would be helpful to my readers, please leave it in the comment section.  Tell us your story if you have had this happen to you. 

During this holiday season and treacherous economy, we need to take extra measures to protect ourself from the unsavory types that obviously got their slimy hands on my identity and banking information and can do the same to yours.

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Fact Finder: Identity Theft

Victim of identity theftYou've seen the testimonials on television or read stories in the newspaper about stolen identites and the nightmare that follows. Could you become a victim of identity theft? The Federal Trade Commission(FTC) estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

What is identity theft? Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personally identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

How does identity theft happen? It starts with the misuse of your personal identifying information such as your name and Social Security number, credit card numbers, or other financial account information. Thieves use a variety of methods to accomplish this; among them dumpster diving which is digging through trash looking for bills or other paper with your personal information on it.

What can you do to protect yourself from identity theft? Perhaps the most important thing you can do to protect yourself is to be aware. Be aware of how personal information is stolen and protect yours.

Take the Identity Theft Quiz and see how well you score!


National Resources

Check out these resouces to better educate yourself before and after identity theft.

FTC's Identity Theft

U.S. Department of the Treasury

Social Security Administration's Fraud Hotline

U.S. Department of Justice

U.S. Postal Inspection Service

Better Business Bureau

Internet Crime Complaint Center


State and Local Resources

NoScamNC- 1-877-5-NO SCAM

Better Business Bureau of Eastern North Carolina


Credit Bureaus

Contact information for the three consumer reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit report.

Equifax- 1-800-525-6285; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian-1-888-397-3742; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

TransUnion- 1-800-680-7289; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790


What to do if it happens to you?

You've been diligent BUT someone STILL steals your identity, here are some steps to take to begin the recovery process.

  • ID Theft Complaint Form- fill out this form in conjunction with a police report to create an Identity Theft Report that will help you to recover more quickly.
  • ID Theft Affidavit- may be required for a variety of purposes, including absolving you of a debt, opening a new account or obtaining an application or transaction records from a company the identity thief dealt with.
  • Sample Letter- Use this sample letter to request information from businesses the identity thief dealt with. This information can be useful to you to show that the thief, rather than you, made the transaction, and to law enforcement by providing information about the thief such as his or her address.
  • Keeping track and knowing your rights-Record the actions you've taken to record the fradulent use of your identity and know your rights under federal law.

Source: ftc.gov

Stay Safe,

Susan


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