Column: The Passing Scene
By: Dennis M. Patrick
Date: July 8, 2022
Beware Identity Theft
A friend recently contacted me knowing that I had experienced identity theft a few years ago. He sought my counsel and I was only too happy to oblige by relating my familiarity.
As with most folks, I thought it would never happen to me. But it did. Perpetrators stole my identity and used it to commit fraud.
What constitutes an identity? As a minimum a name associated with a social security number and a birth date easily identify a person. An address, place of birth and mother’s maiden name, though not necessary, help seal the deal.
My first experience occurred in the spring of 2010. I was called by an out-of-state bank to confirm that I was opening a new account establishing $7,000 in credit. The bank suspected fraud and called me.
In response to the theft of my identity I opened accounts with the three major credit rating bureaus (Experian, Equifax, and Transunion) and cleaned up the mess. I then placed a freeze on my credit reports with the three credit bureaus. Businesses seeking credit checks for new accounts using my information would be denied access until I lifted the freeze using my password. That should stop further attempts. But my information was still “out there.”
The next incidents occurred in the spring of 2012 circumventing my credit bureau accounts. Here’s how it went down.
On March 8, 2012, I received a legitimate form letter from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The letter confirmed that I had redirected my direct deposit social security check from my legitimate bank to a different bank in another state. Of course, I had not. My stolen identity was used fraudulently to commit this crime. The letter was so low-key it did not perk my interest at first. Then, in a classic double take, it dawned on me. This was a confirmation notice! I immediately contacted the local SSA office. They confirmed my monthly check had indeed been redirected to a different bank.
Within minutes the fraud became evident, the redirection of my check was stopped, an “identity theft victim” tag was placed on my file, and a password assigned to preclude any further unauthorized changes to my account.
I then filed a local police report. This is highly recommended for a couple of reasons. First, any additional action on my part would have to be substantiated and a police report could be included as evidence. Second, the identity theft can be matched against other criteria in law enforcement databases in an attempt to catch the perpetrator.
Finally, I filed a fraud report with the SSA. But, that’s not the end of the story. On April 6, 2012, my tax accountant attempted to file my TY 2011 federal tax return electronically only to have it rejected by the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). It seems someone had already filed a return using my identity to fraudulently claim my refund. The IRS immediately noted anomalies in the fraudulent return and froze my account without issuing a refund to the perpetrator pending resolution of the matter.
When notified by our accountant, my wife and I immediately headed to his office, picked up the hard copy of the unfiled tax return, and took it to the local IRS office as instructed. To prove our identity we had to produce two forms of photo identification, our original social security cards, and our passports. Once properly identified, the IRS agent was able to unfreeze the account and personally mail the tax return along with copies of our identification to the appropriate IRS center. He then filed a fraud report on our behalf. For enhanced security, he also applied for a personal identification number (PIN) for use with our next year’s return. Thereafter, a new PIN is issued each January.
Unfortunately, there is no collaboration between the three credit rating bureaus and the federal agencies. Consequently, no fraud alert came from the credit agencies.
Through my own initiative and with the help of a certain bank, I was able to pinpoint physical addresses, phone numbers, and e-mail addresses of the suspected perpetrators for 2010 and 2012 in Washington state and Florida. I included that information in my fraud reports.
How is a person’s identity stolen? In my case I can think of several ways. Theft of computers containing data comes to mind. Loss of computers by the Veterans Administration, stolen computers in possession of contractors containing military medical records and successful hacking of federal and civilian databases result in stolen identity. Of course, I wouldn’t be surprised if criminals possessing stolen identities focus on zip codes in lucrative, high income regions.
I conclude the following. First, I will never retrieve my identity. It’s gone forever. Second, my identity has been packaged with others and is being bought and sold as would be any commodity.
I alerted every institution with which I had critical transactions including the SSA, IRS, Department of Defense Finance and Accounting, Veterans Administration, and financial institutions to the fact that I had been a victim of identity theft and that fraud had been perpetrated using my identity. In other words, I attempted to close off every avenue of approach through which a perpetrator might gain access to my finances and government records.
The age of innocence has passed and vigilance is key. For safety’s sake, it is critical to be constantly aware of what is taking place around us.
Dennis M. Patrick can be contacted at email@example.com.