Who Loves Ya, Baby? ID Thieves, That's Who

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This amusing take on dealing with identity theft is written by our guest writer Richard Rossi. Richard is a published humor writer and children's book illustrator from Greensboro, North Carolina.    

Who Loves Ya, Baby? ID Thieves, That's Who! 

I must confess to being pretty cavalier about protecting my online persona. That was until several months ago. One Sunday afternoon I was reading my credit card bill and noticed an unfamiliar charge from a retailer that was not my habit to frequent. I called my credit card company and spoke with a friendly customer service rep who was there to service my every credit need, even those I didn't know I had (a laptop, promo teddy-bear, or reward points!).

Before discussing the purpose of my call I had cajoled the operator into giving me the location the merchandise was sent to. As it turns out, the delivery address was not more than an hour from where I currently reside. I refuted the charge and was told that it would be stricken from my bill. Before ending the call I asked her if the credit card company would be pursuing the perpetrator since they had her address. I was told they would not.

Just the facts, ma'am
I phoned my local police department and the operator directed me to the department closest to the "perp". Now it's time to strike a blow for good, credit worthy folk everywhere. I feel like Jack Webb after a gimlet or two. Positively giddy.

 Would you believe...
"You didn't lose any money, so what's your problem?" the police officer asks me. He states that since I reported it to the credit card company, there is no monetary loss, hence no victim. Unbelievable. This wasn't like those cop shows at all. Now I really feel victimized.

That is what I have been saying you "fewl"
So I can't file a report because I'm not a victim. But aren't we all victims here? After all, don't we all pay inflated premiums as a result of fraud? I'm told that no, we're not all victims as far as the officer is concerned. Not unless we all live in his patrol area. Time to get creative. So if I get the credit card company to put the charge back on my credit card then I'm a victim and I can file a police report. Is that correct? "Yes", he says. Time to get back on the horn with my credit card company and this time ask that the charge be placed back on my account.

You know, I have one simple request. And that is to have sharks with laser beams attached to their heads!
Customer service people aren't nearly as helpful when they think you're nuts. At first, she stated that she couldn't place the charge back on my bill as I had previously stated that the charge was not mine. After explaining what was happening she agreed to check with her supervisor, stating that I would likely be required to provide a written statement before they could add the bogus charge back onto my account. I was beginning to see what a mess this was becoming. Who knew that doing the right thing would become such a laborious task?

I'm in Psycho-ville and Finkle's the Mayor
At that point, I handed in my badge and gun. Truth, justice, and the American way would have to wait for another poor, misguided slob with more time and rewards points than I. In retrospect, there are preemptive measures one can take to prevent ID theft, most at no cost other than a moment or two of your time. Here are the adjustments I've made:

1) When purchasing anything over the internet, I use a secure payment method. This is important particularly if you're not familiar with the vendor. Check to see that it's a secure site and it wouldn't hurt to check the BBB. If they use a recognized payment processor like Paypal then you won't be required to disseminate your personal information.

2) I don't store my PINS or Passwords on my computer. If a hacker does get access, your ID is toast.

3) I shred tax documents and credit card receipts. ID thieves have been known to go through folk's trash, so shred anything that contains information that you no longer have a need for. Old income tax returns, expired credit cards, or anything with your passport number should be dispensed with carefully.

4) I protect my computer with firewalls and anti-virus protection. Once hackers gain access to your computer, your personal information becomes their personal information.

5) I've looked into ID security companies. For a monthly fee, companies like LifeLock promise to monitor your credit for unusual activity and notify you and the lending institution of potential fraudulent activity. Some even cover you against financial loss due to such illegal activity. This is the only step I don't use, yet, but I thought you should be aware of it.

By the way, for the detective buffs among us, the headlines above are from the following famous detective shows/movies: Kojak, Dragnet (twice), Get Smart, Pink Panther, Austin Powers (Dr. Evil), Ace Ventura, Pet Detective.

Richard Rossi is a guest blogger, published humor writer and children's book illustrator from Greensboro, North Carolina. You'll find examples of his work at his website, www.rossibook.com.
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