- My story
- How to detect identity theft early
- How to clear up credit reports and other records
- Identity theft insurance.
Now I'll give a quick disclaimer: All opinions here are my own non-expert opinions. They are informed by personal experience and some reading on the subject. But I haven't discussed this with other people with experience in this, and I haven't studied the subject in depth. Also, I'm Canadian. Different jurisdictions have different laws and customs that could affect how this goes for you. This information will be most applicable to Canadians.
Also, if it comes across like this didn't really bother me all that much and it wasn't all that scary, I would like to mention that memories of how I felt have faded over the years since this happened. Many people have had it worse than me too, but it certainly caused some worry when I experienced it.
Identity theft is a serious issue, but with confidence, calmness, and some basic knowledge of the credit reporting system and your rights, I believe most people can deal with it.
PrologueIn 2006 I noticed one fraudulent transaction on a credit card bill--a plane ticket worth hundreds of dollars. This was pretty easy to deal with. I called my credit card company. They sent me a pre-filled affidavit for me to sign, and the transaction was removed from my bill. The affidavit was basically a sworn statement saying I didn't make that transaction, I didn't authorize it, and I didn't benefit from it in any way. They also cancelled my existing card and sent me a new one.
They also advised me to contact the two credit bureaus Equifax and Transunion to request a fraud warning on my file. The fraud warning states that I have been a victim of fraud in the past, and that anyone issuing credit to me should call me to confirm that it's really me applying for credit.
The real stuff startsIn 2008 I received a letter in the mail from a collection agency saying I owed a large Canadian bank several hundred dollars. My last name was spelled wrong. I have no accounts with this bank but I deal with their insurance division. I contacted the bank and found out that this letter had nothing to do with my insurance.
Someone had opened a bank account in my name in Ontario (I live in Alberta), deposited a counterfeit cheque at an ATM, withdrew the money immediately, and then closed the account. By the time the bank realized the cheque was counterfeit, the money was gone. The bank or its collection agency sent multiple letters to the address registered on the bank account to demand payment. When that didn't pan out, they looked up my real address on my credit report and sent the letter to me.
After talking on the phone with the bank several times (more than I should have had to), they set up an appointment for me to visit a local branch to sign an affidavit something like the one that I had signed for credit card fraud. In the meantime, I got the occasional voice mail from the collection agency. Each time, I called back and explained the situation. Soon after the affidavit was signed, the calls stopped.
I found out that my identity thief had used a fake Social Insurance card and a fake Canadian citizenship card in signing up for that account. The Social Insurance Number (SIN) is what linked that account to my credit file despite the misspelled last name. By the way, I was born in Canada, so I have a birth certificate, not a citizenship card. And I've never had my Social Insurance card stolen either.
I reported this information to the police. They took a police report and I never heard back from them.
Cost to me: Fuel for a trip to a bank, and a trip to a police station.
Emotional cost and inconvenience: The initial "What's happening to me?!" worry, followed by several phone calls, a trip to a bank, and a trip to a police station.
Digging for infoWhat else had my identity thief been doing? I ordered my free credit reports from both credit bureaus by mail. I found that the bank that I had recently been dealing with had checked my credit file for identity verification (not for creditworthiness) in 2007, and another big bank that I don't deal with had checked my credit file (again for identity verification) the same day. (Why hadn't the first bank noticed the fraud warning on my file and called me to confirm the applicant was really me? I don't know. It could have saved me some headache and saved them hundreds of dollars.)
I called this other bank and found out that someone had tried to open an account in my name in Ontario. Sensing a pattern here? I made an appointment to visit a local branch to look into this further. At the local branch, they showed me the file for the fraudulent account.
There was a "Comments" field that said, "Suspected fraud. Do not tip off client." No transactions had ever taken place on that account. The bank closed that account, and I thanked them for being proactive in preventing fraud.
My credit file showed a couple other credit checks that I hadn't authorized, one from a credit card company and one from a cell phone carrier. The credit file shows phone numbers for every company that checks your file. So I was able to call both companies pretty easily. Neither company had called me after seeing the fraud warning, but neither company had actually allowed anyone to set up an account in my name. They recommended that I contact the credit bureaus though.
When someone checks your credit file for creditworthiness purposes (including for credit cards and cell phone contracts), it drops your credit score just a bit, and other companies that check your credit file can see that credit check. But when someone checks for identity verification, only you can see it on your file; others who check your credit report can't. So both of those credit checks were bringing down my credit score a little bit. When I talked with the credit bureaus on the phone, they said they would investigate. They contacted the companies that checked my credit file, confirmed that the credit checks were fraudulent, and removed them from my file within a month or two.
Cost to me: Fuel for a trip to another bank, two postage stamps.
Emotional cost and inconvenience: Filling out credit check forms, several phone calls, and a visit to a bank
TaxesAfter I did my taxes in 2008 or 2009, it took an unusually long time to get my refund. When I finally received my refund, they paid me some interest on it because of the delay (and reminded me that I'll have to pay taxes on that interest the next year--sigh). There was no explanation for the delay.
Later that year I received a letter from the Canada Revenue Agency explaining that they'd received two tax returns in my name from different addresses, and had determined that my address was the correct one. The letter was to inform me that I'm experiencing identity theft.
I called CRA on the phone to discuss it. They said I could apply to change my SIN, but it's optional and doesn't necessarily prevent my old SIN from being used fraudulently in the future.
I decided not to take the time to change my SIN. Several years later, I have not had any further incidents with my taxes. However, for several years I was not allowed to file my taxes online, and they stopped mailing my personal tax package to me for fear of sending my online access code to the wrong person. I just had to go to the post office to pick up the package. I could still use tax software, but I'd have to print my return and mail it in.
Cost to me: Several stamps for filing my taxes over the next few years, but probably more than offset by the interest the government paid to me.
Emotional cost and inconvenience: Phone call, loss of the convenience of online tax filing (which I actually wasn't using before this), and a little bit of annual worry--wondering if it was a mistake to not change my SIN.