Image by Don Hankins via Flickr
Identity theft victims go one further: in addition to being the target of a random criminal, you often feel beat up by the system--or lack thereof--supposedly designed to help you.
Some creditors' actions or in-actions--not the perpetrator's--dictate the ease or difficulty a victim experiences after the crime has been committed.
Nobody can 100 percent prevent an identity theft from occurring. We are no longer in control of our own information. All we can do is to work to lessen the risk--and the impact by having a plan of action in place -BEFORE we learn our identity has been compromised or stolen.
So here I go again.
My identity has been stolen yet again, and this time, I am dealing with a credit card company--one that defies the laws of common sense --as well as the laws of the land in handling its fraud cases.
But let's start at the beginning, and you'll see for yourselves why this crime is so frustrating, why law enforcement needs resources, consumers need stronger protection laws, and why you need to have a plan of action and plenty of patience!
It all began when I noticed a charge on my credit card statement from Comcast Cable company. Two charges, actually, one for nearly three hundred dollars and one for one hundred dollars. Each had separate account numbers assigned to the charges. I called my Visa company and informed them that I had not made those charges, and asked them to check into the matter. They told me I needed to first contact Comcast, find out what they were for and then dispute the charges with them. Visa would then cancel my credit card, issue a new one and investigate the charges from their end. Sounded easy enough.
Believing this was a simple case of credit card fraud, I thought I could handle the problem by calling Comcast and then filing a dispute.
Comcast confirmed that accounts were opened using my credit card -but not my name. Oddly enough, Comcast never asked for a billing address for the credit card--if they had, they would have seen that it was not the same as the residence where the cable was being turned on. Verifying that one small piece of information could have stopped this bit of fraud before it had a chance to get started. But no. Were they going to turn off the cable? No. I needed to prove I didn't give her permission to use my credit card and that could be done through an investigation by my credit card company.
I called my credit card company.
This incident began to appear as though it wasn't going to be a a simple case of credit card fraud. Comcast disclosed the name of a woman and address, where the id thief had used my credit card to have their cable turned on. She paid for her cable installation, and then sprung to also bring past due due a previous tenant rang up --in order to get Comcast to turn on the cable.
I contacted the id theft protection company I had signed up for and they began working on putting additional pieces together. The more information they dug up, the more alarmed I became. It seems the same person using my credit card number to have cable turned on in her name had somehow also obtained my personal identifying information, including my name, my date of birth and worst of all, my Social Security Number. And she was already using it to commit additional fraud.
On December 16th, in a three party call between myself, a customer service rep from my id theft protection company and First Premier Bank --we notified the bank I found a fraudulent inquiry on my credit report. That's when we learned that the applicant used my name, my SSN and my date of birth, but not my address to successfully activate a credit card account with them. What address did she use? The same address where the cable account was opened.
I pleaded with the bank rep to tell me what she needed from me in order to get a copy of that application for the police, have them take steps to close the account and help to stop any further damage from occurring. I explained I wanted to get police to go to that address --but without their help --law enforcement wouldn't take my word against the perpetrator's word. I was promised a "security representative" would call me. That didn't happen.
Each day they didn't call me, they were contacted.
My id theft customer service rep had already spent considerable time being passed from person to person throughout the bank while trying to gain access to their so-called security department. But that would not happen either. Why? Because we learned that First Premier has a policy that refuses incoming calls --no incoming calls were allowed to go through to their so-called "fraud department". Does that make any sense?
If a consumer suspects an identity theft has occurred, they are not allowed to speak with a fraud department representative ---not until AFTER they fax a written request to do so will a fraud rep return their call. You are still not allowed to make an "incoming call" to them.
We faxed the requested info immediately --but I couldn't help but take note that their website prominently stated: "we protect our customers and take identity theft seriously" --and how their actions didn't match that mantra. In fact, in my opinion, it appeared they were only protecting the perpetrator --and possibly themselves for their lack of taking "identity theft seriously".
As any victim of fraud, I was anxious to mitigate any further damages that this fraudster could cause, so we again explained the Comcast situation and pleaded with First Premier representatives to help me. They said the account was closed and the card was not mailed out. They further relayed I needn't be concerned because though there were "bank fees of $180.00" charged to it, that would be "forgiven" if the account were deemed fraudulent.
When asked why I was not allowed to speak with a fraud representative, their answer seemed more ridiculous: I was told they had 3 million" customers ---and that makes them all very busy. I noted that if they stopped extending online credit so easily ---maybe they could offer assistance to me -the victim. They would be able to provide me with the information the law says I am entitled to, the very information that would allow them to arrest and stop the thief from creating more problems for me. I didn't receive any response ---except for a promise I would receive a return call from their "security department" --at some point.
Not only were most of the First Premier representatives condescending and rude, they had little to no concern for my concerns that they appeared unwilling to help me or their other customers. When asked repeatedly for a list of exactly what they needed from me in order to expedite my ability to send police to the address to arrest the thief, I was told I simply needed to fax a request for the pertinent information. When I replied we had done so, I was told, "send a second request marked "urgent second request" and she too would submit a duplicate request and forward on to their "security department" too. She apologized for the "security department" not getting back to me, but offered another promise that they would. They didn't.
The id theft company continued to call over and over, speaking to one representative after another until finally --we received something. It was not what we were promised. None of the requested paperwork. No phone call. No return fax. No -- none of the promised and expected responses came through. Instead, we received by way of snail mail, a two-page letter reciting more about their policies and what they "now" needed from me. The letter was dated December 22 a week after the first faxed request and notification of a fraudulent account. We received it on December 30th.
Here's an excerpt from the first paragraph:
"First Premier Bank fulfills subpoenas that are issued in accordance with the Uniform Act to Secure the Attendance of Witnesses from Without a State in Criminal Proceedings (the Uniform Act). This Act requires that a South Dakota attorney signs such a subpoena or it must be accompanied by an Order from a South Dakota Judge. The Judge will set a hearing and certify factual findings have been made. In the absence of such an Order or a signature of a South Dakota Attorney, out-of-state Criminal Subpoenas will not be complied with."
The second paragraph lists the various documents they need to accept prior to complying with any request for information;
a copy of my photo ID,
driver's license or birth certificate,
a letter from the Social Security Department on their letterhead,
signed letter from employer on company letterhead
and oh yes, the credit card number -the number I had already noted was with the perpetrator and a copy of police report or FTC Affidavit, .
The letter also stated that if I had any questions, I should call customer service.
That's remarkable. There was no mention of being allowed to call their so-called security department. In fact, the letter was signed by "customer service" --leaving me to question whether or not a "security department" even exists --and whether or not they care about helping the victim.
Sounds to me like they are protecting the perpetrator?
Did they get a photo ID from the credit card applicant? No.
Did they even bother to determine when they did a credit check that I didn't live at the address the applicant requested the credit card be mailed to? No.
Did they comply with my fraud alert? No.
Did they get a pay-stub, birth certificate, Social Security Card or how about a signed letter from their employer? No, no and no.
Victims appear to be far more scrutinized than the actual thief --and that's a problem. Could that be why identity theft is the number one growing crime in this country?
I gave First Premier the benefit of the doubt. I shouldn't have bothered.
Each and every promise to help me, the victim, would be broken.
We learned that long after they were notified of the fraud, the card they had originally promised would not be mailed out to the thief's address ---it was. It was mailed to the fraudulent address a week after we notified them of the fraud.
I mentioned to First Premier that their actions were harming my ability to protect my identity and my credit rating. I also relayed that I was well of aware of their reputation of charging customers high fees and interest at a rate of 79.9% and remarkably they responded without hesitation, --"NOT on your card though!" as if that made it alright. I reminded them, I don't have a card with them, but thanks to them, someone who is using my name and SSN does --and it was unacceptable that they didn't seem to care.
Arguably, one would think that it would be of everyone's interest to send law enforcement to the address of the person who had the fraudulent credit card mailed to the same address where the thief had installed credit using a stolen set of credit card numbers. But no --that's not how the bank or cable company saw it. And the police wouldn't take my word over the perpetrator's --without first obtaining the verification of fraud from either the cable company or the bank. This frustrating series of events prove: when it comes to identity theft, you're presumed guilty until you prove your innocence. The thing is, sad but true, sometimes victims have to prove they are innocent while sitting behind bars for crimes they didn't commit.
Here's a little background on First Premier Bank, to really give you a taste First Premier Bank and what happens when consumers open a credit card with them. I did a quick online search to find out if others had similar experiences and complaints against First Premier policies and if other complaints about a perceived systemic disinterest in helping victims of identity theft, had been lodged. It seems I am not alone in my questioning whether their elusive "security department" existed or not. I found several sites with dozens, if not hundreds, of complaints against First Premier, their policies, and their lack of any helpful customer service.
What does all this mean?
I have said a million times (or close to it) there is no magic way we can prevent identity theft from occurring --we can only work to reduce the risk and lighten the blow. Nobody is immune to it. There is no guarantee it will not strike your life. Truth be told, an important consideration is whether or not you are ready, willing and able to go it alone, or if you find value in identity theft protection and restoration services that today can do far more than they could a few short years ago. I choose the latter ---and that choice comes with plenty of good reasons and my experiences!
Let my latest identity theft be a warning to you! I have been a victim of fraud before, I am a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist, and I spend my life passionately warning others of the risks of fraud and identity theft, yet it happened to me -again.
It's not a question of if you will become a victim of fraud one day--but when. Best advice?
Have a plan of action. The fewer precautions you take to protect your identity, the greater at risk you are. But remember, nobody is immune to it!
Take steps to lessen your risk and the blow.
You may be able to recover quickly from a credit card fraud, but restoring your identity and peace of mind after an identity theft occurs? Not so easy.
Stay tuned for updates as the story continues to unfold...