(By Todd Ellis)

I received a call on October 5, 2016 from a credit representative asking me to confirm my identity and provide the last 4 digits of my social. Are you kidding?? Who does that? I didn’t know the number and I don’t give that information out over the phone. I informed her that I don’t give that information out. After a lot of back and forth (and me googling the 800 number for Dillard’s credit), I was able to give her information she needed to verify it was me. The point of her call, she said, was that they wanted to make sure I was happy with my new Dillard’s card. “I don’t have a Dillard’s card”, I replied. “I thought not”, was her reply.

So began a messy tale of finding out that ALL of my personal identity information had been stolen. Not JUST my social security number. Not JUST my date of birth. ALL of it. Name, address, cell phone, email, date of birth, social security number…on and on. A strong word of caution, and I won’t name any names. I had just purchased a new vehicle, my name only. I have very strong suspicions that my information leaked that way. I mean, how often to you provide all that information to anyone?

I was lucky in that I caught it fairly quickly. “They” (the losers) started applying for credit on October 2nd. I got the first phone call on October 5th. But, what does that even mean. What do you do??

I’ll share what I did, what worked well and what didn’t. I’ll also warn you that while most of this can be handled and life goes on, it’s EXTREMELY time consuming. That’s the difficult part.

First: Call all 3 credit bureaus – request a credit report before you place the fraud alert.

Why? Once you place the fraud alert, it’s like pulling teeth to get them to send you a report.

  • TransUnion – 800.680.7289 – Transunion.com
  • Experian – 888.397.3742 – Experian.com
  • Equifax – 800.525.6285 – Equifax.com

Notify them that your identity has been stolen. Put a 90 day credit notice on your account. *You can also put a 7 year notice on your credit and a password which I will discuss in detail a little later.

Second: As soon as you get to your place of residence, call the local police department and file a police report. Another word of warning here. The police officer that took my report did not seem the least bit interested in actually investigating this issue. I don’t think that this is always the case. The individuals that stole my identity went into stores where they have video of the crimes. I spent several hours on the phone getting fraud prevention to get that camera footage made available to the police department. I didn’t see any instances where they would allow me (the victim) to get that footage, even with a police report. It’s completely dependent on the investigating officer to get that video footage and investigate.

Third: Start calling the individual stores/credit issuing agencies to let them know that you DID NOT apply for any cards.

How do you know where accounts have been opened??

I found out several ways. First, I asked the credit/fraud department employees that were calling to verify information. For example, the first call I received, she had a copy of my credit report in front of me and she was able to give me a list of all the companies that had made inquiries into my credit report. Those inquiries led me to all the companies that either issued credit or considered issuing credit to the thieves. Second, if you request a copy of your credit report (see the “first” recommendation), you can review all inquiries on that as well. I had one inquiry for Citibank – HD. What is HD??? I called the issuing bank. The issuing bank issues credit on behalf of the store. Ultimately, you’re going to deal with the issuing bank. I called the issuing bank, in this case, Citibank and told her my quandary. She didn’t know what HD was either so I had her go over the list of stores they issues credit for. In passing, she said Home Depot. That was it. I had to get in touch with the Home Depot credit department to get assistance.

Recommendation: Create a file to start saving all the documentation that you’ll have.

I have an excel spreadsheet of all the creditors I contacted, who I spoke with and when I spoke with them. I made copies of any and all documentation that I sent out to them.

Make sure you request a copy of your police report as soon as you can. You’ll need to include it with the fraud report that you return to the credit issuing agencies.

Important note: Ask the credit issuing agencies to also remove the inquiry off your credit report. They generally don’t offer to do this. You have to ask. As you probably already know, inquiries in themselves can affect your credit score. I had one person argue with me to tell me the credit inquiry had to stay on there for accuracy. I had to inform him that if I wasn’t the one applying for the credit, then it wasn’t accurate. Duh…

Be prepared:

  • To give your personal information to A LOT of people
  • Spend a lot of time on the phone
  • Deal with several people who do not care that you have a problem
  • Accusations that you really did open the accounts or have knowledge of who did
  • Be diligent and return all the paperwork that is sent you
  • Be patient – not all companies have a designated fraud department. One company I called didn’t even have any after-hours help for stolen credit cards/identity.

You are not liable for all these charges and accounts but you MUST have the documentation to prove it.

7 year fraud alert and password: Additional information as promised.

You can put a permanent password on your credit report. I haven’t done this yet. I’m not sure if I’m going to or not. If you forget it, apparently it’s like pulling teeth to get it removed.

You can also add a 7 year fraud alert on your account. I’m definitely doing this. Send a letter to all the credit reporting agencies with your personal information letting them know that you had your identity stolen and would like to extend your fraud alert.

Generally speaking, all the different people I spoke to were very helpful. I heard a lot of the fake apologizing “I’m so sorry you’re going through this” spiel. It’s fine. What else are they supposed to say? In the end, even the people who weren’t as helpful as I thought they should have been were adequate to assist.

Note: I did sign up for Lifelock. I’m not going to make a recommendation about whether or not you should do that. I’ll tell you what the service actually does. Any time anyone applies for credit, you’ll get a notification via phone and email asking you if you actually applied for the credit. If you say no, they start making the calls to notify the agencies that you did not actually apply for the credit. Keep in mind, you’ll still have to be on the call. I found it helpful but it’s not something you can’t do by yourself.  If you’re a AAA member, they have a free credit reporting service they offer to their members.

Since in this instance, I had my identity stolen but not my existing lines of credit, I can’t speak specific to that situation but I would imagine, it’s very similar. Documentation is the key.