October 15th, 2012
Lisa’s Pre-Internet Identity Theft Story
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When I started college, the internet wasn’t the machine it is today. You couldn’t apply for a credit card online. It could only be done over the phone, via snail mail or on a college campus, where credit card companies would set up tables and advertise to new, wide-eyed college students.
Sure enough, I was one of those new college students who knew nothing about credit cards, and I applied for my very first card.
At first, I overspent, and because I wasn’t making the income to support my spending, I incurred finance charges and late fees. Once it happened and I learned my lesson, I became frugal and careful with my spending. I barely used my credit card and only spent cash.
When it all went wrong
A few years later I decided to travel overseas for a few months to volunteer teach the English language to elementary students in Israel. Little did I know the troubling situation that was waiting for me at home. After a few weeks back in the states, I start receiving phone calls from debt collectors that bills of mine weren’t paid. Naturally, I was totally confused — these calls came from companies who I never opened a credit card with!
Since these companies had all my personal information, I began investigating who opened these credit cards. The address used was an ex-boyfriend’s mother. Fuming, and knowing that confronting the ex wouldn’t get me anywhere, I knew I had to take matters into my own hands. I did some more digging and found out that the credit cards were opened the day I left for my volunteer work. In order to get out of paying the bills, I had to show airplane tickets and my passport as proof that I wasn’t in the country.
Seriously? Was I a victim of identity theft even before the Internet? Yes! And to make matters worse, a person whom I trusted stole it. Instead of attempting to get the money or have her admit wrong (from past experiences, that would never happen) I sought outside help.
The long road to recovery
First, I contacted the creditors to explain the situation and why I would not be paying the bills. Luckily, one of the customer service representatives listened, believed me and pointed me in the right direction. She put me in contact with their legal department, who guided me during the process and helped me get the debt out of my name and transferred to the “rightful” owner’s responsibility.
They had me file a police report as an identity theft victim with my local police department. Because the thief was my ex-boyfriend’s mother, I wasn’t sure about giving her up. But ultimately, I gave them her information.
This woman could have ruined my credit for life!
Next I had to make copies of everything – my passport, country entrance stamps, country exit stamps, airplane tickets, traveler check receipts and my legal home address. The thief used her home address, which made it a lot easier to prove my innocence. The copies and police report had to be certified mailed to the legal department. Then once the creditors received my documents, I followed up. Within six weeks, the credit card debt was no longer my responsibility.
But it didn’t end there…
The history of the two cards she took out still showed up on my credit reports as defaulted debt and company charge-offs. I sent dispute letters to all three credit reporting agencies, with the explanation and a copy of the agreement letters from the creditors. Unfortunately, I had to hire a legal firm that specialized in clearing up credit histories to get the debt off of my record. A few months later, after the firm consistently contacted the three reporting agencies, the negative records were deleted from my credit history. In total, it took a year and a half to get the debt off of my credit history. As a precaution, I placed a seven-year protection on my reports and accounts so any new application for credit or even a large charge on my current credit cards, I would receive an immediate phone call to be proactive.
What you can do
Credit reporting agencies offer a wealth of resources online to keep your credit safe. If you’re a victim of identity theft, don’t let the thief win. Be proactive, add a protection or credit freeze on your reports and turn the tables on the robber.
Lisa Weinberger is the Director of Content Promotion for Bankrate, Inc. bringing more than 15 years of consulting experience combining search (SEO), content and social. Most of her day consists of training and supporting enterprise internal teams about the driving force of content to rank organically in search.
Lisa leads the brainstorming, content creation strategies and promotion plans using data and various content formats to promote and gain reach. When Lisa is not obsessing about maintaining rankings, she can be found by the beach.
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