Joe's Story:
"The burden is entirely on the victim to prove fraud over and over again"


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 My name is Joe Zicaro and I have been a victim of identity theft.

 I first became aware that someone was using my identity very early in the chain of events on July 16, 1999, thanks to a perceptive account representative named at Sears Credit Central in Louisville KY. The rep contacted me for verification of an unusual request after someone impersonating me on the telephone attempted to take control of my Sears charge account. The caller claimed a fire had destroyed my house and all my records, and requested a replacement charge card be sent to a Los Angeles address. I had placed password protection on all accounts I held back in 1993 to prevent my ex-wife from tampering with them. When Mr. Hill asked the caller for the password on the account, the caller hung up. Suspecting something was wrong, Mr. Hill contacted me at my home for verification and explained what took place. This was one of the very first few incidents of fraudulent activity. From my research, I have determined that all fraudulent activity using my identity started in mid July, so I felt fortunate that I caught it very early. This eventually proved to be of little help.

I immediately contacted the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax; Trans-Union, and Experian/TRW, and added a fraud victim security alert to my credit files that same day. I was place on hold in their automated phone systems for long periods while waiting for a customer service representative to answer. I was on hold with one credit bureau for more that 40 minutes before my call was answered. When I finally got through to a human, I explained the situation and asked about inquiries into my credit files. After I verified my identifying information and information regarding true accounts that I held, I learned from a representative at Equifax that inquiries had been made by Sprint PCS and Pacific Bell and that a sprint PCS cellular phone account had been opened in my name. These were the first two fraudulent inquiries and the first fraudulent account reported in their records. Trans Union refused to offer any information, stating that they would be sending me a copy of my credit report and insisting that I would just have to wait. Both Trans-Union and Equifax allowed me to add my correct phone numbers to the security alert so that I could be contacted by creditors for verification of any credit applications they might receive. I could not get through to any person at Experian so was left with their totally inadequate automated system, which failed to add the security warning to my files at that time. I finally had the warning added at Experian after sending them a written request by fax, but the warning was not added until more than a month later. By this time several accounts were opened in my name. The security warnings in my credit files at Equifax and Trans-Union did help somewhat, as I was contacted by several creditors who had received fraudulent applications, and I was able to prevent any accounts from being opened by those institutions. Unfortunately, not all creditors paid heed to the security alert.

I tried to file a police report with Sacramento County Sheriff's Dept. but the duty officer refused to take my report until I could produce evidence from a creditor that a fraudulent account was opened in my name. I learned that police agencies are reluctant to take reports of identity theft without verification from a creditor that a fraud account had been opened, and that credit grantors won't act on any allegations of fraud without a police report. The two policies mutually prohibit any action from being taken to investigate these crimes.

I finally convinced a fraud investigator at Sprint PCS to accept an affidavit of fraud with other identifying information to start a fraud investigation. They confirmed fraud, closed the account and sent me a statement, which I took to the Sheriffs and finally filed a police report, 2 weeks later. After filing the report, Sacramento police insisted this case was not in their jurisdiction because the crimes were being committed in los Angeles. The case was forwarded to Los Angeles authorities, who then claimed it was not in their jurisdiction because the victim lived in Sacramento Co., so I was stuck. I contacted the FBI and got a polite letter in reply saying that my problem was just not worth their time.

Quoting from the letter, it stated "...our investigative guidelines... do not allow us to investigate allegations of criminal activity where the loss is less than $50K."

Finally, my case got the attention of a Sergeant at LAPD fraud and forgery department, but he insisted he couldn't start an investigation without a criminal complaint from a creditor who had been defrauded. All creditors who had opened fraudulent accounts in my name refused to make a criminal complaint, even after being contacted by Sergeant Elliot. My case has been frustrated by lack of response, inadequate response, and even refusal to respond as necessary to support any criminal investigation. These thieves apparently know this and go merrily spending thousands and thousands of dollars in the names of their victims with no fear of being apprehended.

I learned back in August, '99 that my impersonator had purchased three cell phones by check. I knew then that this meant the thief had also opened a checking account in my name, but the company that sold the phones refused to provide me with any information on that check. I could do nothing but wait until something showed up in my credit files to identify the bank account the check was drawn on. Only just recently, 8 months later, I discovered the bank where that account was opened and learned that the imposter had written 200 checks on that account. Those checks are now showing up in my credit files as collection accounts. After becoming quite a pest to the investigators at the bank, they provided me with a partial list of the checks with the check serial numbers and amounts. Adding up the amounts of the bad checks with the charges on other fraud accounts in my name, the total amount is more than $44,000.

I have been successful at cleaning most of the fraudulent accounts from my credit files, but some still remain, as well as the inquiries into my credit history. In spite of having already proved fraud at all three major credit reporting agencies, I am still having difficulties with them updating my personal information, name, address, phone number etc. with the fraud information given by the thief each time a credit inquiry or collection account is reported.

In spite of identifying the problem during the first few days of criminal activity, numerous fraudulent accounts have been opened in my name. I have spent hundreds of hours dealing with this problem and almost a year later, I am still spending many hours each week trying to resolve the problems with the credit bureaus, banks, and collection agencies.

The burden is entirely on the victim to prove fraud over and over again and the only real actions they can take are limited to damage control after the fact. I've been keeping meticulous records and compiling a folder with letters, affidavits, credit reports and other correspondence required to resolve these problems. The folder is now three inches thick and growing larger each week.

This ordeal has been my worst nightmares come true and, since the problem was identified so early, most of it could have been prevented with the proper means and a little cooperation from the credit bureaus, credit grantors and law enforcement.

 

 



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