One of the goals here at StopCreditFraud.org is to get people thinking differently about identity theft. We want people to stop being scared of this crime and start getting better prepared and protected. Most of us go about our daily routine and don’t give a second thought to how much of our personal information is really out there for the taking.  It’s our aim to change this mentality.

We’ve discussed, at length, many ways that the average person can start better protecting themselves against these crimes. However the fact remains that no matter how good your online passwords are, or how diligent you are about shredding sensitive documents, your personal identifying information (social security number, birth date etc.) can be used fraudulently and without your knowledge in an instant.  It really can happen quickly and the worst part is you have no idea its going on until the damage has been done.

With all of this in mind, we decided to go out and ask average Americans their thoughts about identity theft.  If they had been a victim or knew anyone who had and what they were doing on a daily basis to keep their identities as secure as possible.  Below are some of the responses we collected as well as some suggestions/comments from StopCreditFraud.org.  If you would like to participate in future editions of our Real Life ID Theft Stories, leave your story in the comments of our Facebook page.

lisar“I’ve never personally been a victim of identity theft, but my mother had all of her personal information stolen about a year ago. They got her social security number, home address, birth date.  The only thing they didn’t get was her drivers license number.    She still doesn’t know exactly where the thieves got a hold of her information.  We still think it was from the Target data breach, but there’s really no way of knowing.  That’s what bothers me the most I think.  You just don’t know where these criminals are finding your information.  

My mom found out about the identity theft when she got a call from Macy’s asking her to verify some information on her application for a store credit card.  When she told them she hadn’t applied for a card, that’s when they figured out that someone had her social and all the other information and was trying to get credit cards. I helped her get a copy of her credit report that same day and sure enough, there were over 20 inquiries on her report from a dozen retail credit card companies, several wireless phone stores, jewelry stores, you name it.  From what we could tell, it had been going on for about a week.  Thank goodness Macy’s actually called us, because none of the other stores even suspected that there was an issue.  And some of the stores received multiple applications, all with my mom’s social security number.   This could have potentially gone on for weeks if we hadn’t gotten that one call.  

We instantly put a credit freeze with the credit bureaus. All we could do after this was start calling the credit card companies and try to see if any applications had been approved.  Of the 20 or so applications the thieves submitted all over town, 3 were approved.  Two at cell phone stores and a retail store credit card.  They charged about $7000 in phones and equipment on those two accounts and another thousand dollars on the retail card.  It sounds bad, but could have been a lot worse.  It took a couple of days to get in touch with the fraud departments and get all of those applications denied. She was getting credit denial letters in the mail for months after this all happened.  It was scary and a lot of work to clean up”

– Lisa R, Arizona 

Unfortunately, Lisa’s story about her mother has become all too common.  We’ve seen major retailer data breaches happen in the past several years, including Target, Home Depot and most recently T-Mobile. There’s nothing you can personally do to stop a data breach.  What we find extremely disturbing about this particular story is that Lisa’s mother only found out about the identity theft when she was lucky enough to get a call from ONE out of the 20 places the identity thieves tried to open lines of credit.  How did the other 19 stores fraud detection practices fail so miserably?  This is exactly why we stress the importance of subscribing to a credit monitoring plan.  Because obviously you can’t rely on the credit card companies or retail stores to detect this kind of fraud, even with it’s so blatantly obvious.

BofA Phishing Scam

“I feel embarrassed saying this actually, but I was victim of a phishing scam that got my bank account login and password just a few months ago. I don’t consider myself to be a naive person.  I’m definitely aware that there are people out there trying to steal our information 24 hours a day.  The people that got me must have been really good.  It was an email from what appeared to be my bank and it looked 100% legitimate.  It had all of the logos, contact information.  It said that I had a message in my online banking inbox, which didn’t seem out of the ordinary.  So I clicked on the link, filled in my account name and password and got a blank page after that.  Thinking that the bank website was having problems, I typed in my info again and still got the blank page.  I didn’t think anything of it and decided to go directly to the online banking homepage and log in there.  Which worked as usual.  And there were no messages showing in my inbox.  I had no idea that I had just given someone my account login information, not once…but twice, when I tried logging in via the link in the email.  

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I received an alert from my bank a couple hours later saying that they had detected a strange login attempt on my account from another country, and wanted to know if it was me.  Obviously it wasn’t.  In then end nobody was actually able to access my account.  I changed my password and considered myself lucky that I didn’t end up with bigger problems and an empty bank account. My advice to anyone who does online banking is never trust an email that looks like it’s from your bank.  Always login to your account from the actual bank homepage.”

– Tom M, Portland Oregon

Tom’s story illustrates an excellent point.  Anyone, no matter how aware you are, can fall victim to identity theft.  In regards to phishing attempts, your bank will never ask for your username or password via email.  If you do receive an email that appears to be from your bank or credit card provider, we suggest not clicking on it and go directly to the official homepage and logging in there. Always make sure your bank homepage shows a green lock next to the HTTPS:// in your URL bar.  This means the site is secure and your information is encrypted.  If you feel you’ve received a suspicious phishing email, report it to your bank so they can investigate it further.

collection account notice

Collection Account Notice

“I have always been very proud of my excellent credit score.  In fact, I joke with my husband all the time, kind of rubbing it in his face that my score is an 813 and he’s only a 796.   Ever since I was a teenager, my parents taught me about the importance of having good credit so you can purchase cars, homes, things like that.  So I’ve been very careful to keep my credit in good standing.  About 2 years ago I got a letter in the mail from a collections agency which stated I was 180 days past due on a MasterCard account with a $7000 balance.  We only had one credit card between my husband and myself, which was a Visa with very little balance.  So I was immediately concerned.  I contacted MasterCard and the collection company and we figured out that someone had opened this account in my name months prior.  I never received a bill in the mail prior to the collections notice.  So I had no way of knowing this account was even active. I also don’t know where the identity thief got my social security number.

The problem was that the damage had already been done.  The late payments and collection account had been reported to the credit bureaus.  My score had dropped into high 600’s, mainly because it was such a large balance on the card that had gone unpaid.  I hadn’t pulled a copy of my credit report for about a year before this fraud happened, which is one of the main reasons it took so long for me to find out.  After a lot of work, the creditor and collection agency were able to see that it was fraud and I wasn’t responsible for the balance due on the card.  However it took me another 6 months to get everything cleaned up on my credit reports.  My score still isn’t back to where it was before the identity theft.  I definitely learned that I need to keep a better watch on my credit reports in the future.”

-Ann D, Florida

Ann’s story is very common for identity theft victims.  She didn’t know she had been a victim until months after the fraud was committed.  And by then, the fraudulent account was past due and in collections.  What we can take away from her story is that it is so important to get a copy of your credit report AT LEAST every 6 months.  We even recommend quarterly.  Opt out of pre-approved credit card offers.  This is just one more way criminals can forge your information and apply for credit cards in your name. This isn’t going to stop identity theft, but you will know if there is any suspicious activity including new accounts you don’t recognize, changes of your name or address and credit inquiries that you did not authorize.  We don’t want to sound like a broken record, but this is the number one benefit of identity protection services.  They monitor your social security number and detect abnormal changes on your credit report.  So you know about the fraud as it’s happening, not 3 months later.  Thanks Ann for sharing your story with us.

That’s all for today. We suggest everyone read our identity theft protection guide and secure your sensitive information.  You never know when identity theft will strike.