You and your husband are sitting anxiously at your real estate agent’s desk. She is checking to make sure you have been approved for your mortgage. You’re already thinking about what color curtains you would prefer, though. Or whether you want to keep the rugs or put in hardwood instead. That’s because when you were house shopping a few months ago you were approved for a mortgage. The deal fell through, though, so you never actually went through with it.
The real estate agent comes into the room. The mood darkens a bit. There is a second of awkward silence and you can feel what is coming.
“I’m sorry Jack and Jill… you weren’t approved. You had some dings against your credit report and you didn’t qualify.”
You respond back “What are you talking about!? It was checked four months ago and I was approved! It was perfect!”
Le sigh. If you didn’t cause the bad marks, somebody else did. And if you aren’t aware of it I imagine it isn’t just a case of you having short-term amnesia.
Your identity was stolen.
What is identity theft?
As in the above scenario, identity theft occurs when someone falsifies documentation and uses some form of your personal information. It may be just your name, it could be your social security number, or they may have used your credit card information. Perhaps they used other identifying information in order to open a new bank account, activate another credit card, get a drivers license, or commit some other type of fraud. Who cares? It’s not you at fault, right? Exactly! Except… not. You are the one held at fault because it is your personal information. Do you think the bad guy is losing sleep over your bad credit report?
Why do the identity thieves go through the trouble? Perhaps they want a new plasma TV. Or maybe they are really feenin’ on an iPhone. Whatever the reason, they want something and are using your identity to get it.
What are some things they may be using your identity for?
- Buying spree! A new plasma or laptop can be quite expensive… but not when you are paying! Or how about 40 Nintendo wii’s since they are so easy to resell on Craigslist?
- More credit cards using your information. This just opens the doors for an even larger shopping spree. For multiple people.
- We keep hearing it is a good buyers market for cars. Your name may look better on the auto loan than their own name.
- Ever have a credit check run trying to get a cell phone? Depending on your credit you may have to pay a huge deposit.
- Quick cash. They may write checks or use a debit card and drain your account.
- They may open a new account with no balance and just write bad checks.
- Get a job.
- Give your name to the police during an arrest. You may be getting a bench warrant when they don’t show.
You need to turn over stones (or boulders) in order to fix everything in the aftermath. This can take months or even years to resolve. In some cases you may even need to go to court to resolve all of the issues. I will go over how to fix a bad case of identity theft in a future post. While you are waiting years to make everything right, you may be losing out on some things such as: Job opportunities, car loans, mortgages, or even time… as you will be spending all of yours in jail!
8 Ways Identity Thieves Get Your Information
In order to figure out if you have had your identity stolen the first important step is figuring out where these identity thieves may be getting your information. Here is a list of common places where your information can be found:
- They get information by hacking into businesses or other institutions (like universities or office buildings) records or computers.
- They dumpster dive for random “loot.” If they are singling you out they go through your individual trash can.
- They pretend to be a potential future employer or landlord of yours and obtain a credit report by social engineering.
- They acquire your credit/debit card numbers as they are processed. This can be done by installing a piece on a scanner or stealing it electronically.
- They steal or find your wallet or purse. Your information on a silver platter.
- They intercept your mail. Pre-approved credit cards? Sweet!
- They go the USPS and fill out a change of address to have your mail diverted to a location of their choice.
- They actually steal the information from your home. Be careful about leaving strangers (contractors?) in your home alone!
Some indications of identity theft include:
- All of a sudden failing to receive bills or other mail. This could tip you off to a potential address change by the identity thief.
- On top of the normal “pre-approved” offers you start receiving credit cards for which you did not apply.
- Like in the opening scenario, being denied credit for no apparent reason.
- Suddenly receiving calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services you did not buy.
All of these errors individually could potentially be caused by an error. Maybe the accounting department chose the wrong debtor and now all of a sudden it looks like your account is outstanding. However, when a few of them happen in tandem you should take it as a warning of potential wrong doing. To be ultra safe I would follow-up on even one of those indicators occurring.
Even if you don’t realize anything is happening, do not assume that your information is safe. Lack of evidence is not evidence of (the) lack (of fraudulent activity).
3 things you should do to check if you have been a victim of identity theft
- Get a copy of your free credit report annually. I advise getting your credit report every trimester, for free, using AnnualCreditReport.com.
- Open your bills as soon as possible.The sooner you find out the bill is fraudulent the easier it will be to correct.
- Monitoring the balances of all your financial accounts. You should go over the charges to make sure they are all legitimate.