This is a true story of a LexisNexis colleague’s overwhelming experience with identity theft. Let’s just call him Bill.
In November of 2011, I received a voicemail message at home from a large financial institution that initially I thought was an attempt to solicit my business during the upcoming holiday season. Since neither my wife nor I had done business with this bank, I wondered if our “Do Not Call” list registration had expired. After confirming with my wife that she had not opened or inquired about a credit card from them, I was relieved when she responded firmly and confidently, “No.” (Unfortunately, that relief was temporary.) Therefore, I felt compelled to call the bank back to remind them of this federally mandated law that could result in fines if they continued to call me.
To my dismay, after I called the 800 number that was left on my answering machine, my heart skipped a beat when I heard a gentleman on the line answer, “This is Mr. Smith with the fraud department. May I help you?” Knowing what I knew about identity theft, the importance of protecting one’s Personally Identifiable Information (PII) and fraud in my current profession, I insisted that he provide me with their main switchboard number to ensure that I had reached the bank and was not on the verge of being scammed (Good job Bill, keep ‘em honest.). As I dialed the number, I wondered: Was he truly from the bank? He seemed to show sincere concern about reaching me. Or, was he a just good actor attempting to make me a statistic – one of the millions of identity theft victims targeted each year?
After calling the 800 number I verified on the bank’s main Web site, I asked the operator to route me to Mr. Smith in the fraud department who picked up the phone immediately after the internal transfer. What I learned from that call was that he had no intent to not scam or steal from me, nor was he attempting to sell me one or more of their services. Instead, he was a former law enforcement officer who was now working hard to protect the interests of his customers – in this case me!
He continued to share that my identity appeared to have been stolen and that he was calling to gain authorization to proceed with the multiple large credit charges that were pending which followed the recent credit card account opened in my name just a few weeks before. Obviously, since I had not inquired about a credit card with them, the card was cancelled immediately and their no risk policy resulted in no affect to my wallet. However, their decision to open the account led to a series of events that took away many days of my life that I will never get back.
For the next several months, I began getting calls from multiple collection agencies, a few attorneys threatening to put liens on my home if I did not pay a debt that they were convinced I owed, and from other credit card companies who were questioning the recent online inquires. Over a few month period, my credit went from nearly an 800 FICO score to below 600. The debts included credit cards, payday loans, utilities (both electric and gas) at two locations, Internet service and rent/leases owed for several months on two locations. Frankly, for a number of those weeks during the first few months, I thought I was working two full-time jobs: my current profession and attempting to restore my credit and name. (Bill, just consider this helping those less fortunate, maybe the IRS will consider this a “donation”?)
During the next 12 to 18 months, the local police in our small township conducted an investigation…..
Read next Monday’s Fraud of the Day to hear the rest of Bill’s identity theft story.