Getting the Run-Around in Illinois


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February 1, 1999

Regardless of how many times I have been told that I am not, I am a victim. Our police agencies need to realize that having one's identity stolen is emotionally painful, humiliating, and costly. I have spent an ungodly number of hours trying to correct the damage that has been done by the individual who stole my identity. Professionally, as a teacher and tutor, my hours are worth thirty-five dollars. I have been robbed of $5,250 in time. I have been humiliated in my local stores because my checks have been rejected at the check out, and I am emotionally drained. I am a victim, and Congress needs to recognize me as such.

My fanny pack was stolen at a coffee shop in Chicago on Labor Day. By the time I drove home to cancel my credit cards, they had already been used. The credit card companies were very helpful in canceling my cards; however, none of them told me that I needed to notify the three major credit reporting agencies. The police failed to give me this information as well.

My credit union told me to cancel my stolen checks. Unfortunately, they did not advise me to close my account and open a new one. Both stolen checks were written and forged on the same night as the theft; one at a gambling boat, and the other at a major grocery store. Both places required a picture ID. I learned of the forged checks when a clerk at the Target store rejected my personal check for merchandise. The clerk allowed me to use the courtesy phone to see why my check had been rejected. I was told that I had bounced a check at Harrah's Casino (a gambling boat). I tried to explain the situation and was told to call Equifax Check Services the next morning. I called and was told that I needed to address the issue in writing.

That same day, I received a letter of intent to collect from this same company. I called again trying to explain, and I was given the information that I needed to include in the letter to them. This included an affidavit of forgery (to be filled out after I requested and received copies of the forged check from my banking institution which took four days), my mother's maiden name, and proof of identity (which had been in the fanny pack). I was told that once they had received the information, it could take up to 30 days to clear my records.

In the meantime, I could not cash a personal check at any store. I then received a letter of intent to collect from Telecheck for the forged check to the grocery store. Again, I called to explain. Again, I had to send various pieces of information and would have to wait 30 days for my record to clear. Neither company advised me to contact the credit reporting agencies.

In October, thanks to an investigator for Target, I was made aware that someone was opening charge accounts in my name. An employee of Target was suspicious after opening a new account in my name. She realized that the woman opening the account was much younger than what the birth date on the application indicated. She followed the woman and her male companion out to the car and wrote down the license plate number. Of course, all of this happened after she had charged $989 of stereo equipment and electronics.

The investigator was calling to verify that I had not opened an account. The investigator told me that I should call the credit reporting agencies and request reports to see who else had inquired into my credit and to flag my reports with an identity theft alert. Unfortunately, I cannot say that this woman was then arrested, and my chaos ended.

I called my friend in the department of motor vehicles and had her run the license plate number. I then called the police to give them the woman's name, address, and phone number. The police detective in charge of my case refused to take any information. I tried to tell him about the witness at the Target store; again, he would not take any information. His exact words to me were "You are not a victim." He explained to me that I was not actually out any money; therefore, I was not the victim, the credit card companies were. Shocked, I asked him how he could say that. My identity had been stolen, checks where forged, new accounts had been opened, and my credit was ruined. He again stated that I was not actually out any cash. I hung up angry and frustrated.

I then followed through on the investigator's advice; I called the credit reporting bureaus. Trans Union was easy to contact and extremely helpful. Over the phone, I was able to get the names of all the credit companies who had inquired into my credit since the theft. The representative even went so far as to give me phone numbers for each of the companies. I started calling companies. Sears opened a new account even though I had just reported my card stolen and told them not to send me a new card. It was "maxed out" at $4,000. J.C Penney's turned down the new application because I had just closed the other account (smart people there). And Sprint wireless had given the "new me" a phone and a service. I closed the accounts immediately, and page by page filled out all the required paperwork for each company.

Since I now had a cell phone number with a well-used service, I decided to call my detective once again. As a civilian, I figured that the police might call the numbers that had been called on the service and get some clues-even though I already had her name and address. Again, I was told that I was not a victim.

Discouraged, but with a lot of work yet to do, I called Equifax credit reporting bureau. They were harder to reach, but very helpful. The "new me" went on a gift certificate buying spree at Montgomery Wards and at Ashley Stewart-a store I had never even heard of before. Wards told me that they couldn't void the gift certificates that were purchased on the fraudulent account. It wasn't their policy. They told me that they would close the account and that it was over the limit of $2,500. Of course, I would have to fill out all of their forms and return them with an affidavit of forgery. Ashley Stewart is a clothing store. The "new me" is now well dressed in over $1,000 worth of new clothes. They closed the account after two phone calls and sent me the forms. That left one credit reporting agency to contact.

Experian was an experience-a nightmarish experience. No human ever answered the phone at Experian. I called over 20 times at all times of the day. I tried every possible number option on that recording. I made up numbers to try. I sent a letter including the long list of information they requested, and received nothing in ten days -all the while still trying to call them. I sent a second letter. No answer after another 10 days. I send a certified letter telling them that the FTC requires them to send me a copy of my credit report. They sent back a form requesting all the information that I had sent previously. I filled out the form and sent it back certified and registered.

I called the FTC to complain; they told me to send Experian a letter. In 15 days, I finally received my credit report. Again, I called the companies who had made inquiries into my credit. Ameritech told me that a phone had been install in my name at an address in Chicago. The "new me" had installed a new phone at a "new address." Even better, Providian Financial didn't know why they had inquired into my credit history. The credit report had given me access to a new phone number for Experian so I called and was put on hold. It gave me time to look over my report.

I discovered that Experian had listed the address of the house with the newly installed phone as my address. My entire credit history had changed its address without my ever having to move. After 30 minutes on hold (no exaggeration), I finally heard a person's voice. I told the customer service rep. about the erroneous address and asked her how they received that information. She said that Providian Financial had sent it to them. Confused, I asked her to explain. She said that Providian inquired so as to send out pre-approved credit card applications to me. Remember, Providian had no record of me so they said.

I boldly asked why Experian would change my address. Her response was that it was policy to add or change addresses whenever they received information from credit card companies. This means that Ameritech sold my "new fraudulent address" to a credit card company who was sending pre-approved credit card applications to the person who stole my identity. How much easier for a thief could it get?

Well, it does get easier if the police won't do anything. Upset with my detective, I called his supervisor and complained. I was assured that something would be done and my case would be reassigned. I got a new detective all right. She even called me-to tell me that I hadn't gotten the other detective in trouble and she really didn't know what I expected her to be able to do. After 31/2 months, I blew up. I told her that I didn't give a shit whether he was in trouble or not. And that considering the Chicago police department had just put out a propaganda piece on the local news about how they were now going to go after identity thieves, that I expected them to do something or that I'd be happy to call the press and let them know that the piece was propaganda (the press loves that). She shut up. I continued with the fact that I gave them a name and address, that I had a witness, and that she had just installed a phone at a residence in Chicago. I asked her if she wanted me to drive over there and pick her up for them as well. She told me that I couldn't do that. She finally took the information I had collected and said that she'd get back to me. That was on December 20, 1999.

Trying to get a step ahead of this criminal, I realized that if she were receiving mail in my name at a fraudulent address that maybe it would fall under postal fraud. I called the postal inspector, got a voice mail, and left a message. An inspector called me back the next day. I was informed that it was indeed his job to investigate identity theft, and he took the information that I had on the individual and the number of the investigator from Target. In three days, I received a letter from him requesting copies of anything I had regarding opened accounts, fraudulent charges, and any correspondences with credit card companies. That was three weeks ago.

The irony of all this is that two weeks ago, Experian tried to send me additional information and left my P.O.Box number off the envelope. The Federal Post Office sent them a corrected address notice. Experian sent me the notice with a letter saying because of the confidentiality of the information they provide, I needed to send a copy of my driver's license and two pieces of mail to verify my identity before they could change my address. They changed my address because a credit card company sent a credit card application to an unknown address, yet they won't fix their own error when the Federal Post Office sends them a corrected address notice.

If all of this isn't crazy enough, AOL is now making it even easier for identity thieves. For $45, they can get all the information they need to open fraudulent accounts. They just have to go to www.aol.com/netfind/whitepages.adp, type in a name, pay their money, and receive a person's social security number, address, automobile information, family history, roommates, neighbors, income level, physical description, and more.

As I mentioned earlier, I am a high school teacher, and after 5 ½ months of this farce that is still not complete, I understand why kids are so messed up. With adults like these, and rules and laws like these, why should they choose to work. After all, the person who is believed to have stolen my identity is only 19 and has proven that crime does pay-quite well-at my expense.

 

 



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