Some of you may remember a piece I wrote for this newspaper in 2006. It was a summary of events that had occurred since early 2001 when my identity was stolen. This article will serve as a reminder to be vigilant where your personal and financial information is concerned. I recently read where Rappahannock Electric was warning its customers of scams that were taking place by people claiming to be with the utility.
Briefly, my personal information was stolen in early 2001, about the time I retired from the federal government. Using my information, the thieves changed my address on my financial records and then proceeded to take out 20 to 30 new credit cards. Since I had, at that juncture, excellent credit, the companies issued these cards with a pretty high dollar limit. The crooks immediately took these cards to an ATM and maxed them out for cash withdrawal.
That was bad enough but, still unbeknownst to me, they then took out a number of different mortgage loans, from around $40,000 to almost $150,000. As of 2006, when I wrote the article for the paper, I was still engaged in getting my credit records cleared.
As an example of the frustration I faced, one of the credit reporting companies still showed my address as Capitol Heights, Md. – the address the crooks had used to receive the new credit cards. After many phone calls and letters, I finally got the credit reporting company to change my address to Flint Hill, but they still showed Capitol Heights as a previous address.
At this point I was ready to get in my car and go looking for somebody, but a wise attorney advised me that, at this stage in my life, I probably didn’t need to worry too much about my credit rating and maybe I should just forget about it. I took that advice.
Now, 12 years since the initial crime, I live in a little house on a small hill in Rappahannock County. About every eight to 10 days my phone will ring, and it will be some debt collector wanting me to give them the last four digits of my social security number so they can be sure they have the right person.
After explaining that it is not my habit to give out personal information over the phone, they tell me that if I don’t, these phone calls will continue. I have gotten to the point that I explain to them that I am an old man living here in the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia, and I don’t really get that many phone calls, and I don’t mind talking to somebody every 10 days or so. Usually, this is when the line goes silent.
Last week, I got a call from a nice fellow claiming to be Leo Roller, with Franklin Credit Management Corporation in Jersey City, N.J. After a few minutes of explaining what was going on, Mr. Roller and I played a game with the last four digits of my social, he giving me one number, and me giving him one number, until we both knew he had my social security number. Big whoop. He has my stolen information.
Today, I put in the mail to Mr. Roller about 20 pages of letters and documents that hopefully someone will use to come to the realization that I never lived in Maryland, and never owned or attempted to buy real property in Maryland, Michigan, Illinois or California. Is it over? I doubt it.
I just returned from a large home improvement center, purchasing a generator to help me make it through the next Superstorm Sandy. The department manager convinced me that I should have one of their credit cards and I would save a bunch of money. I asked how long this would take, and he assured me only a few minutes. I should have known what was coming, but being thrifty and wanting to save a dollar or two, I relented.
The supervisor in the customer service department was quickly processing the paperwork, and then she got a phone call. I watched her happy face go to a blank stare and then saw the wrinkles come to her brow. I should have walked. If I had not already waited six weeks to get the generator, I would have. She handed the phone to me and said, “They want to speak to you.”
The lady was nice enough, but, after a couple of minutes, I couldn’t take it anymore. I said, “Are the identity theft warnings still on my credit records?” She was only a bit surprised, and said, yes, that’s why she had asked to speak directly to me.
Basically, what these warnings do is tell the potential creditor that this person has been the victim of identity theft, and not to issue any credit until you have talked directly to the person and assured yourself of their identity.
I said, “Ma’am, I am standing in a public space, with people waiting behind me. Ask me a couple more questions, if you must, but I’m very close to telling you what you can do with your generator.”
She asked a couple more questions. Through clenched teeth, I answered them. They approved the card. The final question: When did you live in Capitol Heights?
Be careful out there, my friends. Here, in this beautiful place where we live, there are some wonderful, helpful, compassionate people. But not everybody you encounter along life’s highway is there to help you.