Testimony from Dallas, Texas:
It All Started at the Supermarket
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My name is R.E., and I am a victim of Identity Theft.
On Xxxx xx,2000 - my birthday - my wallet was taken at the checkout counter at Tom Thumb. Security cameras showed the checker taking my wallet, and charging nearly $500 of groceries after I left the store. Despite my calling the police, no charges were filed against the individual because he not "steal" the wallet from my person. The wallet -containing my recently renewed Drivers License, MasterCard, ATM Card, parking card, business cards (with cellular and home numbers), and college ID card (with social security number on it) - was never recovered. The head of store security and the police detective told me the that wallet was probably thrown away.
To my knowledge, no effort was made to recover the wallet. I contacted Citibank, Bank One, and got a new Driver's License, ATM card, and MasterCard. Shaken and traumatized, I tried to put the past behind me.
* * *
On September 19, I first became aware that my identity had been stolen. I received a bill from Sears - for $675.55 of electronic purchases I did not make. I notified Sears, and put fraud alerts at the three credit reporting agencies, and ordered copies of my credit reports.
I was dumbfounded by what I discovered: over $7,000 of charges on seven credit cards, with attempts to open 6 more. Starting on September 9th, most accounts had been opened on the Internet. Despite the fraud alert, accounts are still being opened. An account was opened at Wicke's furniture store on September 22d. The suspect presented my driver's license - and, despite the fraud alert, the miswriting of my social security number, and obvious differences in the signature - was granted instant credit. Subsequently, nearly $3000 in charges were made, in 6 separate instances, over a four-day period.
I have called and/or visited the District Attorney's office, the Department of Public Safety, the FTC, the Social Security Administration, the Postal Inspector, the Secret Service, the Department of Justice, the Dallas Police Department's Financial Crimes division, the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency, and the Texas Attorney General's office. I have filed reports with the Postal Inspector, FTC, Social Security Administration, Dallas Police Department and Secret Service.
I have contacted the credit card companies and stores, as soon as I become aware of them - to report the fraud and theft, to get more details of how they received credit accounts, and to request fraud affidavits and copies of the approved applications and sales receipts. All but two companies have refused to give me copies of the applications and sales receipts; most insist a police detective must call and request; one said I needed a court order or subpoena. In addition, I have gotten a new drivers license number, met with the manager at my bank, spoken with my local post office, and alerted my landlord, apartment manager, and neighbors to make note of suspicious people or cars.
From the Internet and information gleaned from the various aforementioned agencies, I learned that I should get a new drivers license number, social security number, and even change my name - and possibly move. Yet, I am the victim, should do I have to run?
Meanwhile, the crime spree using my identification continues. I am fortunate in that the trail is fresh and current: most cases of Identity Theft are discovered months - or years - after the occurrences, when the suspect(s) have moved on with someone else's identifying information - to another victim. However, despite my vigorous efforts and the fact that this crime is ongoing, there is no sense of urgency on the part of the investigating detective. I have been met with defensiveness, condescension, intimidation, refusal and denial at the police station. When I attempted to contact his Sergeant, I was told she was rarely there, because was frequently off-site, busy with the FBI. Her name was mumbled to me - twice - and I still don't have a way to contact her. I am very hesitant to go over his head to get answers and action, risking annoying and alienating the detective.
The crime goes above and beyond the crime of credit card fraud - which is law enforcement's primary focus (thus I am repeatedly told, "but you're not the victim, you don't have to pay for any of the charges.") Identity Theft is a horrible crime, where you are victimized repeatedly; even when you know it's happening - as in my case - there is little you do to prevent further or future victimization. Identity Theft was finally recognized by the state of Texas on September 1, 1999, with the signing of Penal Code Section 32.51: "when an individual's name, social security number, date of birth, and government-issued identification number" are used to "obtain money, goods, services," when someone "possesses, transfers, or uses identifying information of another person without the other person's consent and with intent to harm or defraud another." It "is a felony."
* * *
Every day I wait with anxiety and dread for more phone calls and the mail to arrive. The mail brings more bills from fraudulent accounts, fraud affidavits to fill out, rejection letters from failed attempts to open credit accounts with my information, or updated credit reports with additional inquiries and accounts opened. Yet what I fear more is what I don't receive: the suspects have used other addresses on credit applications, and there are sure to be additional accounts that I will not be aware for some time.
Each appearance on my credit reports requires a lot of time, expense, and energy to take care of.
I must get frequent copies of my credit reports from the three Credit Reporting Agencies, as new instances of theft appear on it every day.
I call the CRA to get the phone numbers of the companies, alerting the CRA of fraud.
I call the companies, where I am transferred several times and/or put on hold for extended periods of time. I give them the details of the situation (always prefaced by, "Hi, my name is R.E., and I am a victim of Identity Theft."), request the account be closed, a fraud alert put on, and be sent a fraud affidavit to fill out. Oftentimes, I am told that it will be 3 weeks to a month before I receive it. On several occasions, I have called back a few days or a couple weeks later, to find the internal investigators have not received the information, and the request must be resubmitted.
When I receive the affidavit, which is 2-3 pages in length, I must fill out all details of the situation, submit writing samples, copies of the billing statement (if applicable), and attach a copy of the policy report and a copy of my driver's license and/or social security card.
I get the affidavit notarized by a Notary Public.
I make a copy for my own records.
I go to the Post Office, fill out forms to send it via certified mail, return receipt requested, and finally send it off.
I then must follow up, to make sure that it has been removed from my credit report. (I am told it may take months - or even years - for my credit report to be cleared. This could prevent me from getting a job, getting better interests rates, applying for a loan, or buying a car.) This involves additional phone calls, letters (to the individual defrauded companies and the Credit Report Agencies), and trips to the post office. (I have also received 2nd bills from companies, with additional charges. I have to go through the same aforementioned process for the same company.all over again.) More money, more time, more effort.
* * *
The thieves have also written checks using my drivers license and name. I found this out recently when a check of mine was denied. I am awaiting a fraud affidavit from the check verification company. Changing my drivers license number should protect me from further check fraud, but how can I be sure they won't get away with it somewhere else? Perhaps get cellular or home phone service, take out a loan, or get a car? The detective told me to carry my police report with me at all times, in the event that I could be arrested for crimes the thieves have committed using my identification. And he still says I'm not the victim?
* * *
The credit card companies (ones that I am dealing with include: Dillard's, Wicke's, Lowe's, Target, Wards, Sears, among others), do very little with credit card fraud. They make it so easy to get credit (most credit is applied for over the Internet), and consider the amounts too little - whether $200, $500, or $2,000 - to pursue the victim (or, for that matter, assist me in my investigation by providing information to me). It's business; they just write it off as a loss. And the thieves know this.
* * *
Not only do I have a difficult time for convincing law enforcement to admit that I'm the victim, much time is spent proving I'm not the perpetrator to the defrauding credit companies.
* * *
While Identity Theft is not a violent crime, the toll it has taken on me emotionally, financially and physiologically is beyond description, and could only be misconstrued as hyperbole. When you're repeatedly victimized, with your personal identity violated with each offense, the effect is profound.
* * *
Issues with Police:
There is only one detective in Dallas who handles Identity Theft, and his focus is Internet Crime
The detective told me that he would get to it in 2-3 weeks, even though the offenses are still occurring.
Being told by detectives I'm not the victim, that I "haven't lost anything"; I've lost time, work, money, a sense of safety and stability, a good credit rating, energy, sleep, appetite, friends, and most importantly, my identity.
The various credit card companies refuse to give me copies of the credit applications and/or receipts, saying I need a court order or the detective must phone to request. The detective saying it's "not my job to contact the companies," that it's a "civil matter," and to "get a lawyer." But I need copies of these to support a case of Identity Theft!
The detective wrote an incomplete and inaccurate police report. Despite pointing this out, the detective refused to change or add anything (except my phone number). It minimizes the seriousness and extent of the crimes involved. This report is required when submitting affidavits to credit card agencies, and various government agencies, including the Social Security Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, the Department of Public Safety, the Postal Inspector, among others.
The detective refuses to give me any information, saying he'd call me on a need-to-know basis.
I frequently have to go downtown to records to get a copy of MY report, to see if there is additional information. ($1.50 on the tollway, $.50 for the meter, $.10 per page of the report.it adds up, not to mention the time involved, and the stress of driving to - and parking in - downtown).
Pessimism by the detectives that anyone will be caught. No one has been questioned, including the stores that were defrauded, the suspect who took my wallet, etc. "Don't get your hopes up," the detective told me. How is he to put his full effort into solving the case without believing in a positive outcome? (Believing in a positive outcome is what keeps me fighting!)
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The only crime where the suspect is presumed innocent before proven guilty, and the victim is "guilty" until proven "innocent."
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