I have a friend, let’s call her Mandy. Mandy is an identity theft victim. Mandy is not her real name because this is a private story and she wants to maintain her privacy. She’s willing to share it, anonymously, because she read “Bullseye Breach” and she knows what I do for a living. She’s hopeful that her story might help others in a similar situation.
For anyone who still thinks the law enforcement bureaucracy will help you when you’ve been violated in this manner, Mandy’s story will change your mind. And hopefully this deeply personal story will help persuade you that IT security is important and you need to take it seriously.
I am privileged to post Mandy’s story, in her own words.
Living in a nice neighborhood can give you a false sense of security. Maybe you know most of your neighbors and don’t think twice about leaving your windows open all day to let in cool air. Maybe you don’t even lock your doors at night.
I’ve never been that trusting. I grew up in a South Florida neighborhood where it seemed like we were receiving flyers on a weekly basis about break-ins.
They left an impression on me. Once out on my own, I always made sure my doors and windows were locked, but turns out that didn’t matter.
On the morning of Nov. 7, 2005, someone pried open a locked window and got into my home anyway. My husband and I returned from work around the same time that evening to find our home ransacked.
The thief or thieves must have spent a long time inside because everything, and I do mean everything, that was both portable and valuable was gone. Every room in the house had been gone through.
Missing were thousands of dollars worth of electronics, including a laptop computer that contained personal information and a video camera with precious video of my son inside; all of our checkbooks and bills that had been written out but not yet sent; a set of extra keys to our house and one of the cars; and the coin collection I had been building since I was a kid.
May sound hard to believe, but it wouldn’t have been so bad if that was all that had disappeared. What’s ten times more devastating is the fact that my family also fell victim that day to what has become the number one crime in America — identity theft.
Like so many people I know, we had our social security cards and birth certificates in a fire box under the bed. The thief found the key to the box in my underwear drawer and cleaned it out.
I feel stupid for having left the key in such an obvious place, but my husband has convinced me that if they hadn’t found the key, the thieves would have just taken the whole box anyway. I should have hidden it better.
We spent all of November and December worrying about how our information was going to be used, but nothing bad happened. Then the other shoe dropped the night of January 11th.
Because of the fraud alert we put up on our credit reports after the break-in, someone from Dell Computer called our house around 10 o’clock that night. He said he had J. on the other line and was calling to confirm his identity.
My husband was not the man on the line with Dell. We were being violated again.
After hanging up with Dell, we ran our credit report and found out that a few days earlier, someone had tried to secure a home mortgage in our name.
When I got to work the next morning, I looked up our client contact at one of the credit bureaus, called her up and started asking a lot of questions. She couldn’t answer all of them, so she put me in touch with Kevin Barrows, the former FBI agent who is credited with busting up one of the country’s largest identity theft operations in 2002.
He told me, “Because you put the fraud alert up and filed a police report, you will not be liable for anything the identity thief does; but at the same time, you do need to get his inquiries and the false addresses he gave off your credit report as quickly as possible.”
That night, I embarked on another round of letter writing. The next morning it was off to the post office again.
Early on in the process, I had read an article that recommended all communications with the credit bureaus be sent certified with return-receipt. I’ve spent close to $100 sending letters that way so far.
That’s in addition to the thousands of dollars spent installing an alarm system, fixing our broken window, replacing a damaged sliding glass door; rekeying our house and car; replacing stolen documents; etc. Some, but not all of our losses, were covered by insurance.
Just when we thought we had the situation under control, my husband and I started getting calls from credit card companies calling to confirm our identity because of the fraud alert on our accounts. One after another… I lost count around 30… We would tell the people on the other line that no we did not authorize the opening of an account.
Right away after the calls started coming in, I pulled our credit reports again and found mention of multiple inquiries made by creditors we had never heard of, plus a mysterious address in Illinois added to both mine and my husband’s accounts. I called the police department in that city to report that someone at that address was fraudulently using my address to try and establish credit.
Believe it or not, the detective I spoke with actually told me they had received similar reports from others about that exact address, but there was nothing they could do because it was a federal crime. I was referred to the Post Master General, I presume because the thieves wanted to get credit cards fraudulently sent to them through the mail.
The person I spoke with took down my information and referred me to the FBI. The agent I spoke with at the FBI told me there are too many cases like mine for them to pursue all of them. They referred me back to the local police dept in the jurisdiction where the theft happened. My hometown police department basically said, “Sorry, there is nothing we can do about a crime being committed across state lines.”
I am sharing my story in hopes that I can help make the recovery process easier for someone else.
Here are the steps I’ve taken since the day of the break-in:
- Called the police to file a report. (This is a critical step. You will need that report in order to get extended fraud alerts issued).
- Called the credit bureaus. (Work your way through the automated menus until you find the option to get a fraud alert issued. Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are required to share information with each other, but to give yourself peace of mind, contact all three anyway. I did.)Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
- Called the banks to get all of my accounts frozen immediately after discovering the theft. Went into the branches I do business with the morning after the break-in to get new account numbers issued; and also secured a safe deposit box to store personal information in from now on.
- Cancelled all of my credit cards. The thieves only made off with the two they found in the fire box, but I have no way of knowing if they went through my files to get other numbers too.
- Called all my creditors to see which ones had received payment on my accounts. Sent new checks with a letter of explanation for the lack of a stub to the others.
- Had my mail stopped so the thief couldn’t return to the house and steal our mail. Went to the post office daily for over a month until I was able to find, purchase and install a secure mailbox.
- Went to the Department of Motor vehicles to get new driver’s licenses issued with new numbers. We have no way of knowing if the thieves came across our old numbers when they went through our file cabinet.
- Went to the Social Security office to request new copies of our cards.
- Filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which shares information about identity theft with law enforcement agencies across the country.You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form at www.ftc.gov; or call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: (877) ID-THEFT (438-4338); or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
- Sent letters to the Department of Vital Statistics in the three states in which our family members were born to get new certified birth certificates. Also had to get a new copy of our marriage certificate.
- Once things settled down, called a few alarm companies, took bids, then hired one to install a home burglar alarm for us.
- After receiving confirmation of the initial fraud alerts from the three credit bureaus in the mail, sent in letters requesting a 7-year extended alert along with a copy of my police report.
- Signed up for 3-in-1 credit monitoring so I’ll know instantly the next time someone fraudulently applies for credit in our name.
If anyone reading this wants to contact Mandy, just contact me and I’ll work on setting it up.