How to prevent identity theft (and: What to do if you’re the victim of identity theft)

Text fraud alert Last month, Kim was a victim of identity theft. Somebody used her debit card to make a large purchase of cosmetics.

The thief first tried a couple of test transactions for amounts of $0.01 and $0.00. (How is a $0.00 transaction even possible? I have no idea.) When those worked, she went all-in. She charged $555.90 to the account.

Fortunately, Kim has an excellent bank. USAA both phoned and texted to let her know something seemed suspicious. Then, over the next week, they worked with her to keep disruptions as minimal as possible.

In the end, nobody knows exactly what happened. How did the ID thief get Kim’s debit card info? How were they able to buy $555.90 in cosmetics? What’s to prevent this from happening again? All that’s certain is that Kim lost a great deal of time (but no money) handling this hassle.

Credit Where It’s Due

Since the incident, I’ve been coaching Kim on what she can do to protect herself. We’re not taking a comprehensive approach (as suggested in this very thorough identity theft resource at the Personal Finance subreddit). I don’t feel like this event warrants more than increased vigilance. To that end, we’re taking three specific steps.

  • Breeni Books says 06 March 2008 at 06:17

    I would like to add a method of identity theft that many people aren’t aware of: fax machines. Many fax machines have a retrieval system where the owner can dial in from an outside line and print out recent faxes. It works for thieves, too.

    A few months ago, I needed to order ants for my son’s ant farm. The company gave two options for payment: snail mail or fax. I opted for fax to make it quicker, and faxed in my order form (address and credit card included) from the fax machine at work.

    While at work the next day, I noticed someone kept calling the fax machine, and it appeared we were getting a fax, but nothing ever printed out. Two days later, I found the fraudulent charges on my credit card (actually my debit card).

    I cancelled the card quickly and recovered the minimal damage. But I guess because of this, it ticked off the thief and I’ve been getting magazine subscriptions and other random mail pieces ever since in someone else’s name.

    But just think of all the sensitive information that gets sent through fax machines. Especially at places of business. W-4s, I-9s…

  • nmh says 06 March 2008 at 06:17

    You should wait 60 days to check your credit report after a theft like this. Getting one any sooner won’t help because adverse information wouldn’t have shown up. (That is not to say you shouldn’t put a fraud alert on immediately, you should) Also, when dealing with the credit unions use certified US Mail its the only way to get a good paper trail when you need to challenge something — their web/e-mail system just does not work.

    And for anyone with children it may be worth checking to see if they have a credit report and if so putting a fraud alert that they are a minor. Our son’s social security card never came after he was born (this was a couple of years ago) when I called to follow up it turned out he had been issued a card and it had been mailed. We had to go through a lot to get the number (since one had been issued and we didnt’ know what it was) and then we were advised to put an alert on the number. Sure enough someone was using it. In fact we still suspect it is being used for employment purposes somewhere and I have no idea how that would affect us or him in the future. I just try to keep hard records of everything that has gone on so that he will have them at 18 if things are problamatic.

  • HollyP says 06 March 2008 at 06:44

    Watching the news can also give you a heads-up of potential problems.

    My personal information was put at risk twice in the last year. First, by TJX companies, which owns several stores I shop at occasionally; and second, by my state licensing board. (I hold a professional license.) I was never notified by TJX about the potential release, and it took 6-8 weeks for the state to notify me. Thankfully I noticed the news stories and flagged my credit bureau reports immediately.

  • Jason P says 06 March 2008 at 06:55

    I’ve done something that’s similar to the PO box option above. When I bought my house, the mail box on the side had an open top…plus it was ugly. So I went to buy a new one. The one I purchased is lockable and you can’t slip your hand in the top to pull the mail back out. You can only unlock the front of it. I got it at Home Depot or Lowe’s…I forget.

  • Terri says 06 March 2008 at 06:57

    A word to the wise with free credit reports – be sure to read the fine print!!! My boyfriend had a free one run on his grandmother last year b/c they thought one of her CCs had may have been stolen (they’d just put her in a nursing home).

    He is terrible with organizing his money and I spent all of Saturday helping him develop a savings and budget plan, so I started from 1/1/08 and signed him up for Wesabe. I kept asking “what is this CIC*Triple Advantage charge every month?” and he had no idea.

    I did a Google search and some Yahoo Answers yielded that it was a credit monitoring service. I thought maybe he’d signed up when he opened his bank account, so I called the 1-800 number on his statement. Turns out, he enrolled to have his Grandmother’s credit monitored and was being hit with a ~$13 monthly fee from when he called to get her “free” credit report.

    I know most people on here are probably a lot more thorough and keep better track as to where their money goes (I doubt he even ever looked at his bank statements!) but just thought I’d provide a head’s up. I believe that they do it through Experian, Equifax, etc.

  • Alya says 06 March 2008 at 07:01

    Excellent article. Thank you…

  • Working Dollar says 06 March 2008 at 07:02

    Wow, this article is nearly identical to the article series I posted about a week or two ago – used the same web site for the research and everything. Great minds think alike, huh.

    Identity Theft Series

  • Dave says 06 March 2008 at 07:23

    I’m curious about how expansive the definition of “identity theft” is at the beginning of the article. I realize that identity theft is a huge and growing problem, but one out of every twenty seven Americans affected in a single year sounds bogus to me.

  • J.D. says 06 March 2008 at 07:26

    Good point, Dave. I’ll add a link to my source at the start of the article. Here’s the report:

    http://ftc.gov/os/2007/11/SynovateFinalReportIDTheft2006.pdf

    Somewhere along the way, I edited out the word “adults” which is an important qualifier. I’ll fix the post.

  • Dave says 06 March 2008 at 08:00

    This is probably a big duh for most people, but since J.D. didn’t mention it directly — be sure to shred credit card offers that come in your mail, as thieves can fill out these applications and send them in. And apparently credit card companies even accept *torn* applications, so it’s best to get a cross-cutting type shredder.

  • Becky@FamilyandFinances says 06 March 2008 at 08:01

    This makes me glad that we have a mail slot where the mail goes directly into our house!

    I can’t believe how much of a problem you’re having with the fraud alert, JD. That would make me cranky, too 🙂

  • Brigid says 06 March 2008 at 08:41

    I’ve been pondering signing up for Lifelock. It’s $100 a year. Yes, a lot of the stuff they do for you is stuff you can do for free (they are actually very up-front about that), but there’s something to be said for letting someone else do the heavy lifting. Anyone tried it or have any thoughts??

    Cheers!

  • Deborah says 06 March 2008 at 08:49

    I’d be interested in knowing what you think about http://www.lifelock.com. I keep hearing ads on the radio about it and looked on their website and it looks like they monitor your SS number and I think automatically put the “fraud alert” thing on those credit report companies. Is it worth it to pay for that kind of service?

  • Michelle says 06 March 2008 at 09:02

    We’re planning to replace our beat-up mailbox. (Our town requires them street-side, and the snow plow has hit ours one too many times.) I’ve been considering getting one that locks. Timely article!

    Hope you get everything straightened out with minimal hassle.

  • J.D. says 06 March 2008 at 09:10

    @Deborah and Brigid

    Whether or not Lifelock is worth it is something only you can decide. For me, it’s not. Here’s an article about a do-it-yourself lifelock. I’d go that route first before paying somebody to do it for me…

  • KissairisM says 06 March 2008 at 09:26

    I also am suspicious of the fraud alert. Last October, my debit card was used by someone in Las Vegas and they ran up about $800 in charges in one day. I live in Virginia and had my card on me the day they used my number. I called Equifax to do the initial fraud alert. I got a letter in the mail a few days after that from TransUnion about the fraud alert, but I never heard from Experian. Also, I couldn’t get the free report that’s promised either — I had the same exact issues you did.

    Makes you wonder.

  • Grant Alan Friedline says 06 March 2008 at 09:34

    Good article. Just some password tips. Try to make them at least 8 characters long (10 is recommended). Anything less can be hacked in a few hours if the username is known. Include letters, numbers, and a special character or two. Do not use dictionary words. Mix up a favorite movie title or a favorite music artist name. I saw Rambo 4 a few weeks ago. Ramb0f00r would be decent haha. Things like that.

  • Sam says 06 March 2008 at 09:35

    I don’t know if it helps or not, but in the last few years I’ve stopped handing out my SS# to anyone who I don’t think needs it. For example, I just started seeing a new doctor and when filling out forms I left the SS# field blank. When the receptionist took my forms she asked about my SS# and I asked her why she needed it and she said they use it to identify the correct file among patients with the same or similar names (i.e. Jane Smith). I kindly pointed out that my last name is unique and asked whether there was some other identifying info they could use and she agreed that they could use my date of birth.

  • J.P. says 06 March 2008 at 09:39

    We don’t get a lot of mail, so i know what days i should usually get mail. Whenever the mail doesn’t come i worry that someone stole my mail with all my personal information. It hasn’t happened to me yet but a neighbor had their netflix moves stolen.

  • Erica B. says 06 March 2008 at 10:08

    I had a problem once getting my free credit report because it the online system couldn’t recognize my hyphenated last name. Got around that by leaving the hyphen out the next time I tried, but it was pretty stupid.

    I also found three credit card accounts that I had closed long ago, but that fact hadn’t been noted on the report — AND one of them had since been sold to Chase in the interim, and been reopened at that time!

    On the whole, a good experience, though. No fraudulent activity 🙂

  • JG-CISSP says 06 March 2008 at 10:17

    Great tips here. And it is a little inconvenient, but it’s a good move to go with the P.O. box.

    Along with these, one of the most common mistakes people make is providing too much information on their printed checks – you should provide as little information as possible. For example, never, ever, put your social security number or your driver’s license number on a check unless you are required to do so in person, at a place that you trust, and even at that you should question it. With a social security number and a driver’s license number, your bank account number, plus your real name and address, and possibly phone number, checks are fraught with identity theft danger.

    Along with this, you should avoid mailing checks using your own mailbox (if you don’t have a P.O. box) and the little red flag — most people who use outgoing mail from their mailbox are sending bills – with checks or credit card numbers in them. Drop them off at a secure post office box (preferably the post office). That little red flag is a “green light” to more than just the mail carrier…

  • nolandda says 06 March 2008 at 10:35

    I like this post a lot. One powerful protection technique that was omitted is the ability of consumers in many jurisdictions to place a _permanent_ security freeze on their credit reports.

    With such a freeze the potential creditor cannot run a credit report to approve new credit under your SSN without a special PIN number. After requesting the freeze the credit agencies each send you a letter with a PIN number. From there it is just a matter of keeping those three letters in your safe and not losing them.

    I don’t use much credit, and I haven’t opened any new lines since I froze my reports, so I don’t know how creditors react to this relatively new situation when they cannot pull your report without your PIN.

    It may be a hassle to figure out which credit reporting agency the creditor uses and give them the correct PIN, but it is my sincere belief that opening new lines of credit should be hard.

  • nolandda says 06 March 2008 at 10:36
  • Rich B says 06 March 2008 at 12:29

    Has anyone heard of or used the LifeLock service? I have seen the commercials on TV where the CEO is widely distributing his SSN on flyers while an advertising truck drives around NYC with his SSN on a billboard. The company claims to protect your identity and if your identity is stolen they will cover up to one million dollars for the costs and fees to correct the theft. It sounds like a great service that will prevent identity theft, but it would be interesting to find out how it works, and if it is as safe, easy, and reliable as they claim.

  • LJ says 06 March 2008 at 14:09

    Did anyone else notice that AnnualCreditReport.com asks you to submit your personal data on an UNENCRYPTED page?

    For a service that purports to reduce your exposure to identity theft, that’s pretty insane.

    Thanks for the tip, J.D., but I really think you should recommend a different site.

  • Jean says 06 March 2008 at 16:49

    JD, regarding your experience with the fraud alert: unfortunately I had to utilize it recently but it worked amazingly well for me, I thought. However, I called all three bureaus just because I’m paranoid and in under a week I received mail from all three bureaus stating that the alerts were active (I received two notices from Experian and one each from the other two). I have already ordered two out of the three credit reports I was due, one online and one via phone. I’m waiting a bit to get the third report as I have up to a year to get it (had to order the other ones within 90 days).

    I recently had a debit card number (not the card, just the number) stolen and the thieves proceeded to drain my bank account. My financial institution alerted me to the fact that I had fraudulent charges (I’m usually more diligent but I hadn’t checked online in about 2 days) and I filed a fraud claim with them; my funds were returned the day after I filed the claim including one NSF fee. Before filling out the paperwork, I had also filed a police report and had a printout of all of the charges from my online statement.

    Through my experience, even though it was quickly remedied (and I knew where my number was stolen and the police contacted me about two months later and said they were in the midst of making a case against the thieves), I learned that the burden of proof is really on us, the consumers, and I felt lucky that I knew to file a police report and had a financial institution that, while not sympathetic, was helpful during the process. You really have to have all your ducks in a row to get things remedied and I feel awful for people who have their entire identities stolen and collection agencies after them and no one will believe or help them. You’re considered a thief until you can prove otherwise which is difficult to comprehend particularly if you’ve been a law-abiding citizen your entire life. I was lucky and I’m much more diligent with my debit card and primarily use cash now when I’m out and about. I was considering using a credit card with no balance on it as a way to purchase items that I would use a debit card for in the past and of course pay it off each month. Sorry this was lengthy, just wanted to share how the more info you can provide, the more it might help in situations such as this.

  • susan says 06 March 2008 at 16:52

    I have frozen my credit. For those who are considering using lifelock, you may want to look into it.

    from: http://www.consumersunion.org/campaigns/learn_more/003484indiv.html

    There are more than eight million new victims of identity theft each year in the U.S. Many of these victims find that crooks have used stolen personal information like Social Security numbers to open new accounts in their victim’s name. A security freeze gives consumers the choice to “freeze” or lock access to their credit file against anyone trying to open up a new account or to get new credit in their name.
    When a security freeze is in place at all three major credit bureaus, an identity thief cannot open a new account because the potential creditor or seller of services will not be able to check the credit file. When the consumer is applying for credit, he or she can lift the freeze temporarily using a PIN so legitimate applications for credit or services can be processed.

    In my state:
    Fees: No fees for identity theft victims. All others pay $7.50 to place the freeze, no fee to lift it temporarily, and $5 to remove it altogether.

    Cheap, especially in my position where I cannot imagine a reason that I would need to apply for credit.

  • Ron@TheWisdomJournal says 06 March 2008 at 18:36

    Yes, it sucks, especially when a family member is the one who does it to you. I know from personal experience.
    http://www.thewisdomjournal.com/Blog/my-identity-was-stolen/

  • leigh says 06 March 2008 at 19:55

    my colleague found out her boyfriend of 8 years was using her identity to open all kinds of credit cards in her name… when she broke up with him.

    this one went even farther to masquerade as her! she has a foreign name, he was a foreign guy, and different countries use the name for both males and females.

    and one thing we never expected to hear: fraudulent use of health insurance information!

  • Trees Full of Money says 07 March 2008 at 02:18

    Checking your credit reports is so important! If anyone needs help with annualcreditreport.com I have a step by step example (with actual computer screen shots) on how to do it on my blog under “The Real Free Credit Reports”.

    Ben

  • catweber says 07 March 2008 at 05:54

    A really informative blog-but there is one other thing you can do to make your identity/accounts more secure. If a company you deal with offers online statements accept that offer as fast as you can. This keeps alot of paper with account numbers out of the mail box-less to shred-and in some cases saves you money. MCI charges $1 for a paper bill-check your bill!Vanguard will drop $30 a year account fees if you choose online statements. Just thought you might like to know!

  • MetaMommy says 07 March 2008 at 13:20

    As Sam says, avoid giving out your SSN. Medical offices don’t need it. If you say you’d prefer not to give it out, they usually shrug it off, or as to get your drivers’ license instead. Schools, insurance companies, etc. should no longer use your SSN as your ID#. Be sure that they don’t.

    My information has been potentially stolen due to exposures by companies with my information. For example, a big story on my university revealed over 30,000 names were compromised. As a result, in addition to prior precautionary efforts (e.g., shred mail, scrutinize CC statements), I checked my credit reports, subscribed to a monitoring service, and watch my credit score. Triple Alert (Experian) is only $5/month, and notifies me if anyone accesses my credit report. I was notified when I purchased a new car, and when I opened a new bank account. I’m pleased with the service.

    As for watching your credit score, it’s important because fraudulent activity on an existing account can cause a dip in your score, and a credit monitoring service may not notify you (depends on your service). I got a Providian credit card years ago, and as a free benefit, they show me my Transunion credit score on their website. I never use the card, but I check my score monthly.

    Keep in mind that the media reports some big stories if consumers’ personal information is compromised. However, there are a lot of other potential ways your information can be treated insecurely. Watching your credit is imperative whether or not you know your information has been stolen.

  • Harry says 07 March 2008 at 14:57

    The AnnualCreditReport.com website DOES use encryption on the page where you enter your personal information. The commenter who says it’s not encrypted is just flat out wrong.

  • Michael says 07 March 2008 at 18:31

    Great article, and lots of great tips both in the article and in the comments.

    I am a Certified Identity Theft Risk Management Specialist. There are five basic types of identity theft; Financial is the most common, 26% of the cases reported to the FTC are financial in nature. The other types are DMV/Drivers License Identity Theft (someone using your driving record or your DL number), Social Security Identity Theft (someone using your SSAN for employment or Social Security benefits), Character/Criminal Identity Theft (someone committing a crime and giving your name), and Medical/Medical Benefits Identity Theft (someone using your medical plan to get medical services or changing your medical record). Medical can be the most dangerous to you. To view videos about these, see http://fortunevideos.com/sitemap.aspx

    Many of you asked about LifeLock. This covers financial only, and as another commmenter added, for all they do, you can do it yourself.

    According to the American Bar Association, it is likely that 70% of the time you have to deal with some kind of compromise of your identity, a lawyer will be needed to assist. Financial is the easiest to resolve, but the other areas get a little more tricky.

    Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc, a 36-year old company traded on the NYSE, offers a legal services plan that works much like a medical coverage plan, without the deductible. We can contact a lawyer for advice, ten times a year, or ten times a month, or ten times a day, without ever receiving a bill. We got our wills, living wills, and healthcare directives prepared at no cost, and we get annual updates for free. We can have a contract reviewed before we sign it, again at no cost, only rich people have this service, those who can afford to keep a lawyer on retainer.

    Pre-Paid legal teamed up with Kroll Background America, another 35+ year old company, that deals internationally with Risk Management. Kroll offers (through Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc) a consumer Identity Theft Shield. The plan uses the same concept of Defer-Detect-Defend. It starts with a credit report, then continuous monitoring of both your credit history and USPS address changes (to avoid someone opening new credit in your name and changing the address). If an incident occurs, they assign a licenses investigator to do the work for you to restore your good name. They will check all areas of possible fraud to resolve all issues related to your case, not just financial.

    After you view the videos above, check out http://www.mjjm.info

    There are more videos here. If you have any questions, leave a message for a reply. The cost of the Pre-Paid Legal Services and the Identity Theft Shield is a monthly membership fee of $35.95 (with a one time enrollment fee of $10.00). For less than a bottle of water a day, you could have complete peace of mind. If someone wants just the Identity Theft Shield without the legal service, the cost is $12.95 a month (with a one time $10 enrollment fee).

    If interested you can sign up at http://www.mjjm.info

  • identitythoughts says 07 March 2008 at 22:08

    I just want to chime in about credit freezes. They are definitely the safest way to go (albeit slightly inconvenient if you are going to be needing credit anytime soon).

    The problem with fraud alerts is that the lender is not legally obligated to contact you, even though they are supposed to.

    I did a post about the differences between credit monitoring vs. fraud alerts vs. credit freezes here: http://www.identitythoughts.com/credit-monitoring-vs-fraud-alerts-vs-credit-freezes .

    Some people were asking about LifeLock. A TV station recently did a comparison of LifeLock, TrustedID, and Loudsiren by basically simulating an identity theft. I have a writeup about that here:
    http://www.identitythoughts.com/tv-station-puts-identity-theft-protection-companies-to-the-test

    Sorry to hear about your mail theft JD. My brokerage “lost” my a bunch of my son’s info, and I have nightmares of my 7 month old already having a mortgage and 3 cell phones.

    -BD

  • joe fahrner says 08 March 2008 at 16:15

    Re: LifeLock- its true that DIYers can do much of what LifeLock does for themselves. However, it is important to remember that if you are going to take steps like setting your own credit freezes, monitoring your social security administration profile and checking your credit reports for errors/fraud that you can’t cut any corners and you have to keep up the maintenance. Some folks have the discipline, time and focus to keep this up while others don’t. Those in the former group likely don’t need a professional identity theft protection service while those in the latter definitely do. Its no different than car maintenance. Some people change their own oil and some bring it to a service station. Everyone is different. BTW- LifeLock is probably the most well know of the id protection services but there are haf a dozen or more options of various service levels and costs. Its worth checking out a comparison of the various services if you are interested in learning more:
    http://www.nextadvisor.com/identity_theft_protection_services/index.php

  • Sistah Ant says 08 March 2008 at 22:58

    I’m sorry your mail was stolen. The same thing happened to me last month, and I wound up having to do preemptive defense. I contacted all of the companies I have accounts with, had my account numbers changed, initiated a fraud alert with the 3 major reporters, and filed a report. I haven’t had the trouble with the fraud alert that you had – I’ve heard back from all three companies.

    I have more secure household mail and a PO Box now. I actively “deter,” but my mail was a weak spot – not anymore!

  • Beth says 10 March 2008 at 08:25

    Comment on #30, Ron@thewisdomjournal:

    Family member identity theft happened to my husband too.

    Last fall I married a man I had known for years as a friend/fellow employee that had had his identity stolen for years and did not realize it until January of 2005. The identity thief was his wife!! She had set up post office boxes for mail she didn’t want him to see, made elaborate copies of checking and savings statements that were his accounts to show him if he ever asked – which he seldom did. She forged his signature on CD and IRA cash out requests. Nobody ever questioned the requests. All in all, she went through almost $95,000 he had saved. (His first mistake was trusting her to handle the bills and finances without any oversight by him) It all came crashing down when he received a phone call at work from a credit card company demanding payment. He knew he didn’t have a credit card with them and realized in his heart what had happened because she had done it once before about 10 years prior, but not to the great extent it turned out to be this time. She even had taken out a mortgage on his family home – been in the family over 100 years – that he knew nothing about. One week after he confronted her, she committed suicide. He has spent the last two and a half YEARS, with the help of an attorney, getting everything straightened out. We still occasionally get a letter or call from some company looking for the deceased wife. So yes, identity theft can be an absolute nightmare. Don’t ever trust anyone to handle your checkbook, finances or anything without YOU knowing exactly what is going on.

  • Eugene says 10 March 2008 at 08:31

    The locking mailbox or post office box only helps the mail that gets to you, you have no way of knowing if somehting important got lost elsewhere or was mis directed to someone else. I’ve pulled my neighbors mail out of my mailbox and they have pulled mine from theirs, all the locks in the world won’t help there. You need to eliminate it at the source, get on the opt out list , get paperless statments, etc.

  • Stephen says 10 March 2008 at 16:44

    I avoid most paper mail by using epost for all of my bills, this allows me to receive and pay my bills online without ever using one piece of paper.

    This does not work with things like tax documents and other non bills though

  • idthoughts says 10 March 2008 at 20:50

    Beth, just wanted to say that is an absolutely brutal story.

    I hope everything ends up working out. I can’t imagine what you and your husband have gone through.

  • James says 29 March 2008 at 11:13

    I went through something similar last year and took steps to protect myself:

    http://www.jamestharpe.com/2007/06/what-i-did-when-my-data-was-stolen/

    I was lucky though. Nothing out of the ordinary happened, and my credit was safe.

    One thing I would suggest is not only filing a fraud alert on your credit reports but *also with your friends*. The data found in your trash can be used not just to steal your identity, but it can also be used to scam your friends!

  • Renee says 30 March 2008 at 17:06

    I did a search for the fun of it on intelius.com only to find out that someone had opened a PO Box in a town that I have never heard of. I have a very unusual last name and I am surprised that someone would choose my name. I am not sure why anyone would open a po box like this…I can only guess that they are planning on sending credit cards or whatever to it. I signed up for Lifelock right away and placed a fraud alert. So I would add that it is important to do a routine search on the “people search” engines. I would also add that many home insurance policies sell identity theft insurance which covers the legal fees. Luckily, I have a good agent that told me about it over a year ago.

  • Alex says 07 August 2013 at 08:51

    Identity theft is a brutal crime and if you ask anyone who has ever fell victim to it, they will tell you just this. I don’t even pretend to know what the actual statistics are for identity theft, but I can tell you that if my information were ever compromised, I would would be i n absolute financial ruin. I am just not willing to take the chance, are you? For some good related information, please go here http://tipsonpreventingidentitytheft.com/

  • Rand says 21 October 2013 at 11:25

    Totally had mail stolen in college and they opened accounts in my name under my credit. Nice work, campus residence life.

  • Jennifer says 21 November 2017 at 10:32

    J.D.,

    I love your site and appreciate all that you teach us, but as a person in the financial services industry, I am not certain that ID Theft and a compromised card are the same thing.

    Cards get compromised all the time and the fraudsters don’t do anything but rack up fraudulent charges. ID Theft also happens very frequently, but to my knowledge is when someone actually steals your identity and uses it to obtain credit, perform financial transactions and/or for medical purposes. As an example, ID Theft is something that’s a real risk as a result of the Equifax data breach, whereas your card could be compromised due to a breach someplace you’ve used it.

    Great info in the post, but I do think it’s important people understand the difference. Please don’t hesitate to correct me if I’m wrong.

    • J.D. says 21 November 2017 at 11:33

      Hey, Jennifer. No worries! I’m glad you’re here to correct me.

      Honestly, I questioned whether Kim’s incident was actually “identity theft” or not, so I googled it. My research indicated that compromised cards were a subset of identity theft, but that could have been me just reading into it.

      I’m not going to edit this post, but I’m glad your comment is on top. 🙂

  • Peter Brülls says 21 November 2017 at 12:14

    About the transaction history: I found it helpful to have the bank and credit card company send me a text message for any transaction, including the ones I set up myself.

    The two I use either include the current balance with each message or as a message of its own every couple of days, so I’m not ever unclear about where my normal spending money goes.

  • John says 21 November 2017 at 13:22

    J.D.,

    On other thing you might suggest is to take advantage of free transaction alerts in the form of emails or text messages from your credit card company. Most cards now allow you to set up alerts so you get notified of every transaction. 99.9% of the time you’ve just swiped your card so you know the message is coming and it takes just a moment to delete it. But that 0.1% when the transaction doesn’t make sense is your clue to call your credit card company right away.

  • Dave @ Accidental FIRE says 21 November 2017 at 14:52

    Great post JD and sorry that happened to you and Kim. Question, when signing up for Credit Sesame did you have to give them your social security number?

    I was going to start the process to check myself but before even giving them my email I thought I’d ask – thanks in advance!

  • Abigail says 21 November 2017 at 15:24

    I’m really confused by your side note comment about not having “enough” sources of credit. You have an excellent credit score (says so in the picture!) so I don’t know why you want it to be even higher. It’s not a video game or a competition and a mortgage seems like an expensive way to buy your way to a higher score. I would be interested to read more about your idea of getting a mortgage at this stage of your life.

    • J.D. says 21 November 2017 at 20:59

      Oh, I’m not overly concerned with my credit score. It’s very good, obviously. I’m being facetious when I say I want it to be higher.

      But I really DO wish that I could get a mortgage. That’s an excellent topic for a future article: Why you might want to get a mortgage even though you can pay cash for a home. (For me, it boils down to cash flow. Despite my high net worth, most of my money is illiquid. Any time I have to do something major — like buy back Get Rich Slowly, for instance — I have to cash out mutual funds. That brings additional headaches, such as tax liability. I’d rather have a nice cash reserve, and I don’t have that. If I had a mortgage, more of my money could be in cash and invested for higher returns.)

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