Janelle Irwin: Thieves stole my ID, and it sucks

More than 13 million people were the victims of identity theft in 2013 according to Javelin Strategy and Research. And that number is on the rise. In 2012 it was 12.6 million, up one million people from 2011 and more than two million from 2010.

That means an American becomes the victim of identity theft nearly every two seconds.

Well folks, today I got my two seconds and it sucked. Now that I’ve spent most of the day on the phone and filling out forms online and another considerable amount of time reading resources while on hold, I figure I should take my shit-tastic experience and use it for the betterment of other would-be or will-be victims.

Identity theft happens when someone uses another person’s personal information to his or her own benefit. Most often this comes in the form of using a Social Security number, credit card number or banking information in order to obtain funds, make purchases or even seek out medical care using someone else’s health insurance. People have used identity theft to purchase homes and cars and to open credit cards. In some cases, fraudsters have even given someone else’s name and information to police during an arrest.

Many people (me) think identity theft only happens to people who are careless with their personal information. Wrong. I am very cautious. I shred documents. I don’t store passwords or account numbers. I don’t give information out over the phone unless I’m absolutely sure I’m giving it to a reputable, trustworthy source that requires the information for legitimate purposes. But I still became a victim.

Identity thieves obtain information by digging through the trash – even piecing torn or shredded documents back together. They trick people into giving out information over the phone or hack into databases that contain personal information.

But here’s what happened to me. In 2009 I was in the unfortunate position of being unemployed. So, I did what any newly unemployed person does, I quickly filed an unemployment claim. I later found a great job and was well on my way to financial recovery. Fast forward to 2015. Someone managed to get into the state’s unemployment claim center to file a claim using my Social Security number and date of birth.

This not only qualifies them as trying to defraud the government, it also gave them further access to my information contained in the unemployment database from 2009 including my banking information used for direct deposit.

This realization came quick, but with a kick to the gut. I wasn’t so much worried about the financial implications – as a journalist I’m but one rung above a starving artist. Instead I was instantly pissed off, annoyed and overwhelmed at the steps I was likely going to have to take to right this asshole’s wrong.

Knowing very little about the process, I learned which steps are necessary and which can be skipped. Perhaps my inconvenience can save some other poor identity theft victim out there some of the hassle.

So, click this file to explore what to do once you’ve connected the dots: Steps to take if you are the victim of ID theft

Besides losing money and damaging your credit, there are some other possible setbacks related to identity theft. If a fraudster uses your Social Security number for employment, it could affect your annual taxes and your Social Security benefits after retirement. Despite this risk, the Social Security Administration (at least according to the representative I spoke with) does not have a reporting system in place to note or prevent this from happening. Instead, I was told to contact the IRS for further guidance on this possibility.

The Federal Trade Commission has a lengthy and inclusive list of information on identity theft on its website. It includes information about what identity theft is, how to fix it and how to prevent it. Those tips include keeping financial documents and records locked and in a safe place, limiting identifying information carried in public, dropping mail off at a post office or drop box rather than placing it in a home mail box and collecting mail quickly. They also recommend not having checks mailed to your home, shredding documents in lieu of just tossing them and being diligent in asking why individuals or businesses need personal information.

In the digital era, however, there are also hazards aplenty online. The FTC recommends not giving out information over the Internet unless you initiated contact. When getting rid of a computer, tablet or mobile phone, users should delete any personal information first. The FTC also recommends using encrypting software to safeguard online transactions, keeping passwords private, using creative passwords instead of, say, the name of your family pet or favorite nephew. Another nifty piece of advice – don’t share too much on social media sites. Potential identity thieves could use the influx of info to answer “challenge” questions on banking accounts.

Fortunately, I appear to have only been inconvenienced by my identity theft experience. My financial accounts appear intact and no one has bought a house in my name, yet. But others aren’t so lucky. And even if the case isn’t bad, like mine, it’s still a royal pain in the butt. So to any other victims out there – have fun on the phone and prepare to spend at least three or four hours of your life that you’ll never get back.

To identity thieves: I hope I find you so I can send you a bill for my time. Also, F-you.

Janelle Irwin is a journalist, blogger and regular wearer of sweatpants. Read more of her work on Saintpetersblog.com. Column courtesy of Context Florida.

Janelle Irwin Taylor

Janelle Irwin Taylor has been a professional journalist covering local news and politics in Tampa Bay since 2003. Most recently, Janelle reported for the Tampa Bay Business Journal. She formerly served as senior reporter for WMNF News. Janelle has a lust for politics and policy. When she’s not bringing you the day’s news, you might find Janelle enjoying nature with her husband, children and two dogs. You can reach Janelle at [email protected]


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