My Run In With Identity Theft

While I was reading this story about the sensitive financial records of some 4 million CitiFinancial customers getting lost in transit to a credit reporting agency in Texas, I'm reminded once again that an incident like this isn't an isolated one. All of us are at an increased risk of thieves who want to steal our identities so they can defraud merchants and swipe items like computers and high-end electronics without a gun.

Even someone as careful and knowledgeable about computer security as I became a victim of identity theft last weekend. Here's how it happened...

Last week, my girlfriend's brother was staying with me (he was a patient at my clinic). I decided to clean out my attic and basement and finally get rid of my many spare items on eBay. So I had tons of e-mails from eBay. In my haste to keep my inbox clean, I was forwarding all e-mails to my girlfriend who was managing the eBay sales.

Inadvertently, I forwarded an eBay phishing email to her and she filled it out and listed my passwords, account information and VISA card number. I found out about the scam when they asked her many personal questions she couldn't answer, so she forwarded it back to me to complete. As soon as looked at the e-mail, I realized it was a scam and immediately closed my VISA account.

Fortunately, I had placed a security alert with all the major credit bureaus. Good thing I did: These scammers had tried to open a Dell credit account and purchase computer equipment, but they couldn't do it due to that security alert I put in place. As far as I can determine, the problem occurs when people do not realize they gave away this information inappropriately and don't initiate the security alert. Once people have that security alert in place, there is very little scammers can do.

There are two types of security alerts one can use: Twelve-week and 7-year. I was in week 10 of a 12-week alert, but have since converted mine to a 7-year alert to ensure the scammers don't get anything. It seems to be relatively painless process and the only inconvenience is the credit bureaus will phone you personally to make sure the person checking your credit status is authorized.

Seems to be a reasonable approach and something many of you may want to consider. Besides, with all these personal files being lost or stolen, who knows when someone try to steal your identity like they did to me last weekend.

The (Lakeland, Fla.) Ledger June 7, 2005

New York Times June 7, 2005 Registration Required

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