Last month my identity was stolen. It might not have been such an excruciatingly horrid experience if it were not for the fact that we are smack dab in the middle of buying our dream property—you know, with the necessary credit checks, title searches, folks googling our names to be sure we are who we say we are. It is only by chance that we discovered my stolen identity, as it is in most cases. There is no Stolen Identity Bureau of the government who notifies us when our social security number has been used illicitly.
The nightmare began when we attempted to file our tax returns electronically, like we have for years. To our surprise the system rejected our returns because someone had previously filed using my social security number. We are lucky because the fake return was rejected, which means the thief did not receive our refund. We are unlucky because our refund will now be held up for 180 days while the IRS proceeds to confirm I am who I say I am. And unlucky because we were forced to file via snail mail (certified & registered) – complete with an affidavit, a form explaining what happened, the police report case number, and copies of my social security card and passport.
There is no simple solution, by the way, to resolving a stolen identity. There are many services who can supposedly keep us safe, but even those services require that we do all the work initially. Some well-meaning friends have attempted to give advice about people they know. “It’s no big deal, it’ll be over soon.” Yes, down the road I imagine the memory of this pain and suffering (blood pressure rising, lost sleep) will begin to diminish, but I’ve come to learn it will most likely continue like a dark cloud overhead, because I will forever need to prove who I am at every turn in life.
I’ve since discovered someone filed bankruptcy in my name and someone was arrested in my small hometown with a DUI, with my exact unique name spelling. These could be coincidences, but how will I ever know? The IRS may never allow us to file our tax returns electronically again. There will undoubtedly be unknown repercussions for a long while that have yet to be uncovered.
I have spent eighty hours of my life attempting to rectify this and protect my finances and good reputation. I’ve filed police reports, completed multiple affidavits, created verbal passwords as added security on bank accounts, ten digit pin numbers to freeze my credit files (if those are lost my credit files will be forever frozen even to me, forevermore), and paid money to have them individually frozen. The FTC and Social Security Administration have been notified as well.
The experts’ lists are long on how to clean up a stolen identity. At the top of the list is, ‘never give out your social security number to anyone unless it’s absolutely necessary.’ I’m on red alert and extremely protective now, so when we were recently getting quotes on homeowner’s insurance, I refused to give mine out. Experts tell us not to give it out, yet everyone and their brother requires it: Medical records, insurance, banks, financial managers, employers – all require it to do business with or hire you. But who is required to keep it secure? Are there official guidelines that organizations are required by law to follow? As a business owner with a merchant account, I am required to fulfill annual PCI Compliancy requirements, which proves I understand and follow the proper guidelines to keep consumer information (credit card numbers) secure. However, I know of no rules, laws or certification procedures required when handling the public’s critical information (social security numbers). In fact, yesterday I was reminded of the irresponsible way our personal information is sometimes handled.
I received an unexpected UPS delivery to my front porch from a former financial manager whose services we’ve used in past years. The UPS envelope was laying on my front porch wide open. The tape on the flap saying; Remove to Expose Adhesive – the one the sender is supposed to use to seal the envelope — was still in place because the sender made no attempt to seal the envelope. The documents inside the manila envelope were completely exposed to the world with no attempt made to seal THAT envelope. Two envelopes, neither sealed. The packet contained documents with our social security numbers, legal names, driver’s license numbers, address, former addresses, our income . . . pretty much every piece of critical, private information that exists associated with our identities. Many hands handled this package during transit. A pair of these hands could have easily and quickly photocopied our identities and sold it to the highest bidder. Under the circumstances I cannot help but imagine these things, even though I try every day to keep a positive attitude and I believe that goodness pervades evil. It’s almost comical that this should occur now, to me, as I muddle my way through securing my identity.
I continue to struggle with the feeling of being victimized because how could I not? I am officially the victim of stolen identity. I will put this to rest and move on with my life. MY life, that I now apparently share with another.
Signing off for now, at least ONE of the Debbie Richards of the world. No really, it’s me.