My name is Kathleen Z. (not the actual name), and I am a victim of identity theft. Recently, my wallet (including credit cards, driver's license, passport, and social security number) was stolen from my office. Within an hour, my credit cards were being used to buy pagers, car audio equipment, cigarettes, liquor, etc.
Within two days, a woman was opening bank accounts, buying cell phones and commencing cell phone service, and applying for credit in my name. The last two months have been a nightmare.
However, I am extremely fortunate, in that my identity thief was arrested by the California Highway Patrol (following an unrelated traffic stop), and is currently being prosecuted in ABC County for a number of identity-theft related crimes. I am one of the lucky ones: My identity thief was caught carrying all of my identification (in addition to the identification of a number of other people). She was also carrying checks she had attempted to write on the fraudulent accounts, ATM/check cards for the fraudulent accounts, and several other pieces of information linking her to the theft of my identity. Most disturbingly, when she was arrested, and later while in custody, she continued to insist that her name was "Kathleen Z."
Despite the fact that my thief was arrested a week and a half ago, I am still fighting to clear my name, and I still dread opening my mailbox or answering the phone. Just a few days ago I discovered that my identity thief used my name, driver's license, and a fraudulent ATM/Visa check card issued in my name to pay for a hotel stay. (The issuer of the card had granted my thief a line of credit when she opened the fraudulent account, and persisted in honoring check card transactions despite a growing negative balance.) Just today I received another debt collection letter from Equifax Check Services, demanding payment of a bounced check written by my identity thief.
However, as stated above, I consider myself incredibly fortunate that, even if my identity thief only gets probation, she no longer has my identification in her possession. With two photo IDs and my social security number, this woman succeeded in completely disrupting my life, even though she looks nothing like me. I am only now beginning to put my life back together, although I am told that it will take years before I clear my credit reports of fraudulent inquiries and bounced check notices.
Just recently, I learned that there is a petty theft charge against me in the city of PQR, California, because my identity thief was caught shoplifting. My thief was not arrested at the time, but was instead issued a "ticket," in my name, with my driver's license number, my date of birth, but a different address. The police officer failed to notice that my thief misspelled my name when signing the ticket. If my thief had not been arrested later by the CHP, and if the PQR police had not run a check for my name in the course of executing a search warrant for a motel room the thief rented there in my name, I never would have learned that "I" have a date to appear in criminal court and answer to this charge, and a bench warrant would have been issued for me. (I still have not straightened all of this out, and as of now, I am still named as the defendant.)
In closing, I would like to add that one of the most disturbing aspects of all of this is that banks, credit card companies, and merchants facilitate identity theft through their policies and practices.
- Cingular One approved my identity thief's application for credit and cell phone service despite the fact that I had placed fraud alerts with all three major credit reporting agencies.
- Wells Fargo Bank permitted my identity thief to open an account in my name, using my photo IDs, and allowed her to withdraw $6,000 in cash, despite the fact that she had only deposited $100.
- Washington Mutual Bank also opened an account for her in my name, using my photo IDs, without running a credit check other than with ChexSystems. Despite a deposit of only $20, and a negative balance which eventually grew to over $4,000, Washington Mutual continued to honor my identity thief's transactions.
- ChexSystems only provides banks with information regarding misuse of bank accounts (e.g., overdrafts). They do not inform inquiring banks of recent requests by other banks, or of fraudulent activity. Nor is it possible to add a "fraud alert" to one's ChexSystems file. Consequently, when Washington Mutual Bank requested information about me, they were not told that Wells Fargo had requested information about me two weeks earlier.
- Several stores approved credit card transactions despite the fact that my thief either didn't sign the credit card slips, spelled my name wrong, or signed in a manner that did not look anything like my signature on the back of my credit cards.
- Still others allowed my thief to try credit card after credit card, until she found one that hadn't been reported stolen yet.
- Several other merchants accepted checks from my thief despite the fact that the spelling of my name in the signature did not match the spelling printed on the fraudulent checks.
- Numerous people accepted my photo ids without noting that this woman looks nothing like me, other than that we are both black and are both tall.
It's completely outrageous, and unacceptable.
Thank you for reading my e-mail to you, and for providing such excellent on-line resources.
Update: At a pre-trial hearing yesterday, the DA and my identity thief "resolved the case" with a plea bargain. She plead guilty to one of the 6 felonies with which she was charged. She will be sentenced in about a month, but will do no more than 6 months in County Jail. (I am told that she will most likely do 4 months.) She will then be on probation for 5 years. She will be ordered to pay restitution, and if she does so within 3 years, her probation will end then. All in all, the pre-trial hearing was very upsetting and disappointing, although I am not sure what I expected.