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Is Your Identity Safe?

"Now Mama said there’s only so much fortune a man really needs and the rest is just for showing off." ~ Forest Gump

Several years ago I placed my purse on the seat next to me in the movie theatre. There were less than a dozen people in the entire theatre and only one couple behind my friend and me. During the movie (a very exciting and totally absorbing one), I did not notice when my purse slid down between the seats. When it was time to leave and I pulled my bag up, I immediately knew it was much lighter. My wallet was gone - everything else was intact. I reported the loss, had the management turn the lights on in the theatre, we looked everywhere, even in the trash — no wallet. It was never found.

I can’t quite describe to you how I felt except to say that I felt in those moments like I didn’t have an identity. All my cash was in the wallet, my checkbook was a part of my wallet; I had no identification, no drivers’ license, and no ATM card. I had no way of proving whom I was in order to get money. Never again will I carry all my credit cards with me. Never again will I carry a wallet that also contains my checkbook. I was not out any money because I immediately went home and from my credit card records and statements was able to phone and report the theft. I went to the police station and placed a report. I called the bank and stopped payment on any checks above a number I was certain I had written — unfortunately I stopped payment on a couple that I had written, but that was the least of my worries at the moment. I could make that right.

All in all, I was very fortunate. It cost me only cash, time, frustration and some cute pictures of my grandson —, but it could have cost me so much more. The most surprising thing was how “attached” I was to those things and how they seemed to identify me or rather how I identified with them.

We hear so much on the news today about how easy it is to steal identities. I heard of one case where a wallet was stolen and within a week the thieve(s) ordered an expensive monthly cell phone package, applied for a VISA credit card, had a credit line approved to buy a Gateway computer, received a PIN number from DMV to change the owner’s driving record information online, bought rooms of furniture and more. So with this in mind, I felt perhaps it might be of benefit to be reminded of what to do and not to do to limit the damage in case this happens to you or someone you know.

Place the contents of your wallet on a photocopy machine or your scanner and copy both sides of each license, credit card, etc. You will know what you had in your wallet and all of the account numbers and phone numbers to call and cancel in case it gets lost, or worse yet, stolen. Keep the photocopy in a safe place.

  1. As everyone always advises, cancel your credit cards immediately, but the key is having the toll free numbers and your card numbers handy so you know whom to call. Keep those where you can find them easily.

  2. File a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where it was stolen. This proves to credit providers you were diligent, and is a first step toward an investigation (if there ever is one).

  3. But here's what is perhaps most important. Call the three national credit reporting organizations immediately to place a fraud alert on your name and SS#. I didn’t know to do this. Also call the Social Security fraud line. The alert means any company that checks your credit knows your information was stolen and they have to contact you by phone to authorize new credit. This can save you a lot.

  4. Do not carry your Social Security card with you and do not list your social security number on your checks. Carry only one or two credit cards. Leave the others at home or cancel them. If they are intent on stealing from you, they will, but the more difficult you can make it, the more probable they will move on to someone else.

The numbers are:
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian (formerly TRW): 1-888-397-3742
Trans Union: 1-800-680-7289
Social Security Administration fraud line): 1-800-269-0271

Copyright 2002. Judy Irving. All rights reserved.

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