20 years ago, Dr. Thia and her husband experienced identity theft. Here’s what happened and how they handled the situation moving forward.
We had two little kids and a mortgage. We were making it, but money was tight. It was time to go to the bank to talk about an operating loan for the year for our small business. It was a trip we had made to the bank early each year, like clockwork, for a few years. Robert, my husband, and I expected to sign a few papers and be in and out of the bank in less than 30 minutes.
Friendly Fred the banker, as we called him, looked worried this time as he pulled out some papers.
“I’ve pulled both of your credit reports,” He said as he turned to me. “And I’m curious about the loan you have for a Florida property and the two new credit cards that you aren’t making minimum payments on.”
I was dumbfounded.
Listed clearly on one of my credit reports was an unfamiliar name that was using my Social Security number to access credit. To compound the problem, he was not making the property or credit card payments and as a result, my credit score was way below the bank’s minimum number for extending a loan.
The bank was willing to write the operating loan that day, but only in my husband’s name. Now-not-so-friendly Fred also explained that we wouldn’t be eligible for an operating loan next year or any consumer loans at the bank until my credit report was corrected. The information and credit accounts that weren’t mine had to be were removed.
Even though the Fair Credit Reporting Act was passed in 1970 to help consumers review and correct information in any credit report that is incomplete or inaccurate, it was quite a process to get the information removed from my credit report.
Everyone agreed, including the credit bureau, that the name and credit accounts in Florida were not mine. The credit reporting company would assure me the information had been removed and would even send me a copy of the corrected credit report. Yet when Friendly Fred pulled a copy for the bank, the information was still there.
I finally asked the Attorney General’s office in my state to get involved, and happily, they were aggressive. That appeared to be successful, and the information was no longer visible. In fact, I hadn’t thought about my identity theft for years.
While I knew at the time that the Fair Credit Reporting Act allows individuals to check their credit report for free at each of the three main credit reporting agencies each year, I hadn’t bothered to look at mine. I knew we were very responsible with money and our credit reports should reflect that.
That day my casual attitude changed and I have checked my reports, without fail, annually to be sure there are no problems. There’s no need to pay for credit monitoring services – I do it myself for free. There have been no issues with identity theft since that time. I wasn’t willing to pay to freeze and thaw my credit reports when there was a charge to do that. However, the week that freezing credit reports was free, I was excited to take the opportunity to freeze access to my report for companies I don’t currently do business with. One benefit is stopping preapproved credit offers in my mailbox and email. It makes it much harder for someone to steal my identity and establish credit accounts in my name.
Fast forward to two years ago when we moved from a small town to a city. We needed a new bank and Robert and I were sitting at the desk of the person opening new accounts with a $10,000 check to deposit. We brought multiple forms of identification. We had two bills with our new address on them. We didn’t anticipate what came next.
The banker indicated the bank would want to verify some information on our credit reports to verify our identities. Her first question, as she turned to me, “At what institution did you finance your Florida house?” I glanced at my husband with a look of, “Here we go again…”
We eventually got a checking account at the bank, but rather than taking a few minutes of friendly conversation, we were sent home three times to bring in additional documents to satisfy their identity confirmation requirements. I was not a happy bank customer (and two years later still remember how embarrassing and frustrating it was to set up a simple checking account.) It made what should have been a routine matter a very unhappy memory.
I will go take my blood pressure medicine now.
Stay tuned for the second part of our Stolen Identity series to learn more about identity theft and how to prevent it in the first place!