It was bound to happen at some point: I became a victim of identity theft. After a 20+ year career writing and educating consumers about credit, including identity theft, I found myself on the other side of the story.
I was alerted through credit monitoring that a new retail credit card had been opened in my name. While I had shopped at that store the day before, I most certainly had not opened an account. A phone call to the retailer revealed that the perpetrator had bought a few hundred dollars worth of sneakers online and they were out for delivery as we were speaking.
It’s been a few months since the incident and here are some lessons I’ve learned.
What I Did Right
I monitor my credit. This helps me see warning signs, such as new inquiries and accounts on my credit reports. In addition to card issuers that provide me with free credit scores each month, I have a Nav account that provides me with free personal and business credit scores plus alerts. (There are over 150 places that offer free personal credit scores; I’d encourage you to start monitoring yours today.)
I placed a fraud alert on my credit reports. This will alert other issuers and service providers that they should verify my identity before extending credit. I experienced this in action a month later, when I bought a car and the financing manager called my cell phone to verify that I wasn’t a crook trying to impersonate me.
I created a paper trail. I knew from stories I’ve written about identity theft victims that it would be important to keep good records. So I started a file where I could keep copies of everything, including correspondence, copies of my credit reports and notes from phone calls. So far it’s still a pretty small folder, and I hope it will remain that way.
I visited the FTC’s identity theft website. The FTC has a very helpful website that walks consumers through steps to take if they are victims of fraud. While I’ve recommended it in the past, this gave me the chance to try it for myself. It worked well, and the information was helpful. (I can also see, however, how it would be helpful for someone in this situation to talk with an experienced ID theft recovery specialist; a benefit often available to those with ID theft insurance, as I describe below.)
What I Did Wrong
I did not get a police report. I was traveling when this happened. A variety of other circumstances, including a move to a new home, meant I felt too busy and didn’t prioritize this important task. I doubt it will be a problem in the long run, as the card issuer seems to have closed the account promptly, but time will tell. If it happens again, I’ll get one as a precaution.
I ignored a warning sign. A few months prior, I was alerted that someone had tried unsuccessfully to open a different retail card under my name. They were not successful. Again, though, I was busy selling my home and preparing to move. So other than letting that card issuer know it wasn’t me who applied, I didn’t take further action such as placing a fraud alert on my credit reports. If I had, this perpetrator (perhaps the same one?) probably would have not been successful the second time.
I did not use my identity theft insurance. I didn’t take advantage of the $1 million identity theft insurance available through my Nav account. Fortunately I’ve invested a minimum amount of time and incurred virtually no expenses trying to resolve this. However, I could have taken advantage of the benefit that allows me to call an identity theft resolution specialist for help. Because of my background, I automatically thought, “I can handle this.” But given how busy and overwhelmed I felt at the time, it may have been helpful to talk to someone who deals with these problems day in and day out. If it turns out I have a bigger problem than this single fraudulent account, I will definitely take advantage of this benefit.
Overall, I feel fortunate my brush with ID theft has been relatively minor. But I know that some ID thieves test the waters, and that there could be a second wave soon, or a year or more from now. So I will continue to carefully monitor my credit and act quickly if I see any indications they are trying to strike again.
Have you been a victim of identity theft? How did you resolve it? What do you wish you had done differently? Share your story in the comments below.
This article was originally written on August 9, 2017 and updated on January 31, 2021.