by: David Novak
If you’re like me, when you read the stories about identity theft, you probably think, “Boy that’s awful, but at least it will never happen to me.” Especially if you are responsible with personal information. That’s what I used to think too.
A few weeks ago I got a seemingly innocuous form letter from the Postal Service stating that there had been an address change for me from my home address. When calling the toll-free number, all they could tell me was that an address change had been filed for me, but they couldn’t tell me the new address. I would have to go to a local post office to officially cancel it.
“Know anybody in Miami?” the manager in the post office asked me. Then she produced a copy of the change-of-address card, with the new address and my “signature.” I told her it was fraudulent, and she assured me she would let all carriers know. I breathed a sigh of relief, and figured I dodged a bullet.
Later that afternoon I was telling the story to a colleague, and his reply was ominous – “You know the reason they did that was so they could open credit cards in your name and make sure you don’t get the statements.” Uh oh.
Calling the credit card bureaus was much more challenging than I expected. Most would not tell me what hard credit inquiries had been made, but would confirm one if I named the specific credit card issuer. So I pulled up an online listing of all credit card issuers and probably named 25 before I got to the first hit.
Long story short, the bad guys had applied for four different cards that very same day! All online, all with the same fake phone number and email address for me, but with my correct SSN. Two of the four had already been approved, with $15,000 credit limits each, and the cards were ready to be shipped. After calling each card, I was able to get them all cancelled, and the hard credit inquiries removed. My next move was to get a credit freeze placed on my account with the three main bureaus, meaning that any credit inquiry – even legitimate – would get automatically shut down. With a password they would send me, only I could temporarily lift the freeze if I needed to legitimately apply for credit. For Florida residents, the hard credit freeze was a one-time cost of $10 per bureau, and will also cost $10 whenever I lift the freeze.
Sure enough, the freeze was put to good use a couple of weeks later, when the same guys applied for two more cards in my name. This time all I got was the rejection letters from the credit card companies.
I would encourage everyone to consider putting on the credit freeze, especially if it is rare that you apply for credit. This is a small cost to make a preemptive move and potentially prevent disastrous financial implications.
David Novak, CFP® is a Certified Financial PlannerTM at Novak & Powell Financial Services in Pinellas County. Please note: he is not an attorney and this article should not be construed as one offering legal advice. For information about investment decisions and financial planning, email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.