“Truth is, identity theft isn’t hard. A number and an ID is all you need to drain a bank account and return some money to some very surprised retirees. But why stop there? As long as you’re stealing someone’s identity, why not use it to contact some known terrorist organizations on unsecured phone lines? Why not use it to threaten federal judges and insult the local drug cartel? Most fun I’ve had in Miami.” – Burn Notice
Come and Take It was a Texan callback to Leonidas and his comment to the King of Persia. Not an invitation to my bank account, weasels!
It was a Friday afternoon, and I’d just finished a business meeting about 250 miles from home. As I got into my car for the drive home, literally as my butt hit the seat my phone rang. It was an 800 number, so I have expected that it would be some sort of telemarketer selling off-brand Pez© knockoffs – the cheap stuff made by Elon Musk’s offplanet Martian robots (LINK). I answered anyway.
Turns out it was my credit card company. I only have two credit cards, pay ‘em off in full each month, and they’re issued by the same bank. Why two credit cards? That will become apparent shortly . . .
Bank Lady: “Mr. Wilder, did you open an account with us on July 12?”
Since opening a credit card account is something I do, on average, every five years or so, I shook my head.
Since this isn’t the future, she just waited until I answered in actual words. “No, I’m pretty sure I’d remember that. Besides, I’m too busy digging in the blogging mine each night to take valuable minutes of my day to eat, or open a completely redundant credit card account.”
“Well, someone did. And, Mr. Wilder, they have your birthdate. And your Social Security Number.”
Great. There’s another one of me out there – exactly like me, but with a goatee. Oh, wait, no . . .
I need a gold sash. Does it matter if yours is on the left or right?
Name, birthdate, and Social Security Number are the trifecta for an identity thief. Those were the Holy Grail of information. With that information, anyone can open an account. It wasn’t another person – it was a thief!
Me: “How much did they charge?”
Bank Lady: “This is weird – looks like nothing. Only the annual fee. We sent the card and it was returned to us. I’ll cancel this account.”
Me: “Where did they send the card?”
Bank Lady: “Looks like Texas.”
Great. Stupid hot summers, and now full of credit thieves. Stupid Texas.
The Bank Lady (who was very nice) promised to send me information on the fraudulent account, along with an identity fraud kit. She gave me the number for Experian©, which is one of the three credit rating agencies that lenders check with prior to issuing credit. Experian®, she explained, would put out a fraud alert and let Transunion™ and Farkleknobber© (I forget the other stupid made up corporate name) know about the fraud. Any new credit applications would have to be proceeded by a phone call to me prior to issuing credit.
And I wondered how I got hit? I’ve tried very much to practice safe financial practices:
- No online banking.
- Shred all personal information and credit card offers before throwing away. Preferably treat like a witch and burn. Bonus points if the credit card offers scream while burning.
- Only share information with those that “need” it. I had to punch a Nun one time because she was too nosy. My religion? That’s “need to know.”
- I wear latex gloves while in any bank. No reason. It freaks them out, though.
I had dreaded this moment. There is some portion of my personality that is works off of fear. There is some part of your personality that works off of fear, too (LINK). The oddest part of this fear coming true?
The dread was gone. The identity theft had happened, and it was “go” time. Let’s fix it!
Me meeting evil me. Or is it me meeting nice me? Probably me meeting nice me.
My second call was to my bank. I verified my account balances and wasn’t missing any money, though I did tell my banker about the time that over 10% of my net worth went missing from my account (LINK).
She laughed. (And you will too – read the story).
I also asked her about account security. Since she wouldn’t talk to me without a special code that was texted to me, that was nice. Additionally, she said:
“I see that you don’t online bank, and you don’t have a debit card. You should be good.”
Let that sink in. My banker just pointed out that online banking and debit cards are huge potential security holes.
And they are. I did some research, and it turns out if you online bank and get hacked? You’re screwed. This one gentleman had nearly $1,000,000 lifted from his accounts over the course of months because his laptop was hacked. And debit cards? That’s like walking around a pitbull pen in porkchop panties. Not a good idea.
My last call was to LifeLock®. I vaguely remember the CEO put his Social Security Number (457-55-5462) on billboards, on commercials, and everywhere. I also remember that someone opened a fraudulent line of credit on the guy. And I seem to recall hearing that the CEO went to the thief’s house and kicked his butt – I think it was a story I heard on the radio. I can’t find any record of this online, but I like the concept: “If someone messes with you, our CEO will go to his house and beat him with a broken pool cue.” That’s one way to earn a consumer dollar!
Signing up with Lifelock© was easy, if somewhat like talking to a living, breathing infomercial. Everything was an upsell: “Did you know that a fetus can have his identity hacked in the womb by skilled psychics who can take the baby’s Social Security Number . . . before it’s born????”
I normally hate the hard sell, but this day I was okay with it.
So, I got the double-platinum bejeweled version of LifeLock®. Normally I like to think about financial decisions before I make them, you know, let a bit of reason kick in so I make a sound decision.
This wasn’t rational thinking. It was total, complete reflex action. Doctor taps my knee with rubber hammer? Knee jerks. Robber takes personal information? Wallet jerks. I want the best plan, you know, the CEO ass-kicking plan. Can LifeLock™ waterboard? If so, I want to add that to the plan.
Can I get the “Wet Electrodes on the Nipples” plan? Oh, yes, I’d pay double.
In retrospect, I did some looking online about LifeLock©. It turns out that it’s pretty highly rated, but it’s also thought to be a bit overpriced.
What the heck does LifeLock™ do for you, anyway?
What LifeLock® does is send you alerts on people messing with your credit or other accounts. Since I don’t online bank, LifeLock© can’t see my accounts, but I’ll check those regularly. LifeLock® also offers a pretty professional team to help you after your Social Security Number has been popped naked into the world. And, in theory, it will replace up to $1,000,000 in losses, but I’d bet $10 that they’ve never (or rarely) ponied up that money, since they have fine print and lawyers, and also due to laws that limit your losses due to identity fraud. Mainly, banks have to take the hit, and since they have skin in the game they’ve developed algorithms that look for fraudulent accounts and purchase patterns. And they’re effective.
A thief took my information. Could they get more? Yup.
At 6:50 AM Monday morning, my bank (credit card) texted me, asking if I’d made a purchase from an online store at 5AM for $300. They’d declined the purchase.
Did I make the purchase? No.
If there is anything that all Wilder family members are in agreement on? 5AM is the devil’s time. We should sleep through that. And, my bank probably noticed that. And also noticed I don’t live within 750 miles of the state where they asked the stuff to be delivered.
So a thief has my Social Security Number, my birthday, my name AND my credit card number. One of those I can change (credit card). Actually, two if I decided I was transgender. Then I could change my name, too. But I would be an UGLY woman. But I could be Laura Ingalls Wilder. Has a ring to it?
I have not been nor ever will be a geologist. Just sayin’.
My bank politely asked me to call them. When I did, they asked me if there were any purchases that I had to make today?
No. I’m okay.
(THAT’S WHY I HAVE A SECOND CARD! Two is one, and one is none. Always have a backup on important stuff. And I even carry emergency cash. And a small parachute. And a nosehair trimmer.)
The credit card number I’d had for nearly 14 years was cancelled. A new one, with a new number, would be headed my way immediately, per my bank.
I’d gone through the data that LifeLock™ had provided. LifeLock© also said my credit score was good, really good – 800, so any nonsense on my account had just barely started.
And it turns out this is fairly common. 11,000,000 people a year have to go through this. So, statistically? It’s not if, it’s when it hits you. Sorry to be the voice of bad news.
But now I have to deal with other stuff. Notify the IRS (there’s a number for that) and notify the Social Security Administration (there’s a number for that, too), because both of those are also conduits for fraudsters to mess with my life. Somebody messing with my tax return, which in some years would buy a small country in South America (very small country, like an acre or so). Somebody taking my Social Security (don’t want to get old and find out that somebody other than politicians has stolen my Social Security).
And it gets even more twisted – identity thieves are also stealing identities for getting prescription drugs. And for having medical bills charged to other people.
And, honestly, I think that’s where my leak was. I think an M.D. I went to hired a sticky fingered weasel that deserves to be nipple-electrocuted like Mel Gibson in Lethal Weapon, since that’s one of the few places where I can see all the above information being in one place.
I’d pay extra if they let me be Gary Busey. Not in the movie. I’d pay extra just to be Gary Busey.
Note: John Wilder has received no compensation for this post, or any of them, yet. If LifeLock(R) offers me a big pot of money? I’m on it.