That became the question once I realized I was the victim of identity theft.   Before it was over, I came to a new understanding of how frustrating it is to have your identity and good name assaulted in this way and how inept the system can be in providing any help in stopping the criminals involved.

It started in early April, 2012 while Annemarie and I were on our extended stay at our home in Arizona.  One day, my office manager called to tell me that my new card from a major credit card company had just arrived at my office.   I knew that I had not applied for any new credit cards, so I asked her to scan and e-mail me a copy of the card and the accompanying welcome letter.   Since the credit card had not yet been activated, I immediately called the fraud department of the credit card company and explained to them that the credit card was not requested by me and was a fraudulent transaction.   I must admit, that the credit card company was very cooperative in cancelling the credit card and agreed to flag my name and social security number so that even I could not obtain a new credit card from them without additional security screening.

What both angered and surprised me was that even though the credit card company would confirm that the fraudulent applicant had used my correct date of birth and social security number, they would not provide me with any other information regarding the thief claiming that the thief had privacy rights.  I was outraged that the person who was violating my privacy was able to hide behind the privacy rights afforded him by the very credit card company he was also defrauding.   The credit card company advised that they would give the information to law enforcement agencies if I provided them with an Incident Report; however, as we will see that proved to be a futile and fruitless process.   As an aside, I have not been able to determine how this thief obtained my Social Security Number.

Over the next several days my office was inundated with store cards from just about every major department store chain in the country.   Annemarie and I spent hours of our time calling the fraud departments of each of these stores and, in some cases, the banks that sponsor the store cards to have them cancelled.   Each call was an ordeal trying to work through the automated telephone prompts before you are able to reach a live person, then the list of questions to prove it was really me before they would address my problem, then being put on hold while they looked up my information and then the inevitable transfer to another person or department with more questions before you are finally able to find someone who could offer some help.  We would always follow-up with a letter to document the problem and request confirmation of the cancellation.   Fighting the fires started by the thief became a very time consuming process that took over our daily routine.

One bright spot was that the three major credit bureaus allow you to set up 90 day “Fraud Alerts” that lets the credit card companies know that you are the victim of identity theft.   This did go a long way in stopping or, at least, slowing down the thief’s success in obtaining credit cards in my name.   Instead, I would get calls every day asking if I was indeed the person requesting a new credit card and I would have to explain that I was being victimized by an identity thief.   In each case, they all took the position that the thief had privacy rights and they would not provide me with any information about his identity.

With the credit card situation somewhat in check, the thief turned to making purchases directly online using an online payment account he had set up in my name.   I did not find out about this until I received a bill from the online billing service connected with the fraudulent account.   Again, calls were made to cancel the account and we even called the underlying merchant to tell them directly about the fraud.   Unfortunately, one order had been shipped already and even though we were not being held responsible for the charge, I felt angry that the thief had found a way to be rewarded for his crimes.   Even under these circumstances, neither the online billing service nor the merchant would tell me anything about the thief even though they had his delivery address.   I could not believe that the business that was being robbed would protect the thief in this way.

In each and every case, we were told that it was our responsibility to seek the help of law enforcement since the credit card companies, department stores and even the small merchant all looked at identity theft as part of the cost of doing business and will not pursue criminal charges against identity thieves.

On Wednesday, Joe concludes his story about his personal experiences with identity theft in “Who Would Want To Be Me? (The End, Maybe)”.