True Story: My Identity + $3,462 Was Stolen

What would you do if your identity was stolen? Click through for one woman's story and tips on how to avoid identity theft!

What would you do if your identity was stolen? And fixing it wasn’t just a matter of closing your credit card and waiting for a new one to be delivered? Today Jacqueline shares her story and a reminder why no, we shouldn’t leave our purses unattended – even if we’re in a suburban Whole Foods.

Tell us a bit about yourself!

Hi! I’m Jacqueline. I’m a Canadian-native, now living just south of Chicago with my husband, two kids, two cats, two ducks, a dog, and 17 chickens.

After spending 12+ years in the corporate consulting world, I recently took a leap and went into business on my own doing freelance writing after side hustling for more than a year. With all my “free time”, hubby thinks I have time to build this little farm he’s been dreaming about.

Do you have any idea how your identity was stolen?

In September, I was at a local Whole Foods; I was shopping for a birthday cake for my 5-year old daughter. We were almost finished shopping when I looked down and noticed my purse wasn’t in the cart.

I wanted to keep my cool in front of my kid. I alerted the staff right away and started searching the store. After 20 minutes of no purse, I called the police to file a police report. In that 20 minutes, the thief was able to spend a few hundred bucks at some gas stations, a pharmacy, and a Target. Then they had a hot dog lunch.

Five months later, on Valentine’s day, I’m was on the train heading home. My husband calls and asks “Why is there only $100 in the bank?” I thought this was weird, and went to check it out. I’ve been known to make some banking errors in the past and maybe something cleared that I had forgotten about.

At the time, the bank wasn’t able to give us any details, just that someone had withdrawn $3,462. We had to wait until the next business day to get more details. The bank said it could have been an error, but we wouldn’t know for sure until the next day. To be safe, we put a hold on our account so that no money could go out, only in.

How did you discover that someone had stolen it? 

My purse, which also had my cell phone, car keys, and house keys were stolen back in September, and we had totally put this incident aside. The police didn’t turn anything up, so we carried on with our lives.

The morning after the withdraw, we were able to download a copy of the withdrawal slip used at the bank. When my husband showed me the image I felt sick. It was in my name, with a copy of my signature exactly as it was shown on my (stolen) driver’s license, my bank account number, and my social security number written on the slip! My social security card was not in my wallet when it was stolen!

What did you do when you realized what had happened?

Once I stopped shaking, I went into action mode. Our first stop was to visit the branch where it happened. We spoke to the manager, showed him the withdrawal slip – which wasn’t even from this branch and he was floored. Writing a social security number on a withdrawal slip is not a normal practice, there were red flags all over this.

When at the bank we closed our accounts. We were also grateful that they accessed the account a day before one of our bonuses was paid out – they could have taken a lot more money

Something like this can take MONTHS to unravel. What did you have to do and who did you have to call to get all of this sorted out?

First was another call to the bank to open a fraud claim.

We locked down our credit even further by alerting all our cards about the fraud. I also called TransUnion – who alerts the other credit reporting unions. They put a hold on all credit inquiries for 90 days, so no one could open a new account anywhere without me getting a phone call.

I also filed a police report with the Chicago Police Department. They said there were currently 40 people or so going around the city doing exactly this. They also weren’t surprised that they somehow got my social security number – they said, “these guys are criminals, they know what they’re doing.”

I filed a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) who also alerts other government agencies, like the IRS should someone try to file a tax return in my name.

We closed down our accounts with that particular bank and went to a new one. Changed all of our online passwords, and added a security password that we had to give verbally to people at the bank to prove our identity.

In the end, were you able to get reimbursed for everything?

Yes. With the initial purse theft, the thief used my credit cards. As soon as I reported the incident to the credit card companies, they assured me I wouldn’t be responsible, but they’d need to do an investigation.

With the withdraw from our checking account, it took two weeks for it to be reversed and to get our money back. No word on if the thief was caught.

Has this changed the way you spend money online or how careful you are with your purse/wallet/locking doors?

Absolutely. The Whole Foods surveillance video showed that I had one hand on my cart while a man walked up, grabbed my bag and walked right out the door. I always knew to never take my hand off my cart, but an eye was all it takes! Now, I carry a cross-body bag. I also don’t carry as much in my wallet.

No more debit cards, health insurance cards, or business cards. I just carry credit cards, and also keep some cash locked up in a safe a home.

We changed our locks on our doors, and let all our neighbors know.

We also set up additional banking alerts, so every withdrawal or deposit over $100 and we get an email about it.

What did you learn from this that ANY of us could apply to our daily lives? 

I’m naturally very trusting (I think it’s the Canadian in me!) but I’ve become more aware of my surroundings and militant about carrying my purse, locking my car doors, even the locking the door when I’m at home.

Have a list, or photo of everything that’s in your purse right now. If it’s stolen tomorrow, you’ll know exactly what was in there and who to call.

This might sound totally woo of me, but I think that whatever was taken from me will be returned tenfold in other ways.

Eeek! Thanks so much for sharing your story, Jacqueline. Have any of you guys experienced anything similar? If you have, what helped you navigate it? 

P.S. True Story: My parents were con artists + I grew up on the lam

photo by Stil // cc

10 Comments

Jacqueline Fisch

Sometimes it can be a pain – like when I get to the doctor and my insurance cards are at home, or I’m at the GAP and I left my credit card at home – but the peace of mind of having less to replace is totally worth it!

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Mary

The other night we were in a bar and two couples left for a smoke. The women left their purses on the bar, wide open with stuff hanging out! No place is that safe!
Thanks for sharing that it can be inconvenient. I’ve thought about doing this, but I rarely think through my day first thing in the morning and would leave what I need at home. We use our debit cards all the time–it’s really helped us get our finances under control. It would be a challenge. Could I do it?

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A

you can freeze your credit reports for a small fee so nobody can use them to get a credit check run if they get your social security number. you can unfreeze it temporarily using a passcode for a small fee if you are doing something that needs credit checks, like applying for a mortgage. I did this freeze years ago and it’s a lot of piece of mind.

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Nadine Wachter

How terrible. I can feel my anxiety sitting in my chest from reading this. Thank you for sharing this and tips on how I can be mindful about my own habits.

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Michelle...

Crikey!

I’ve just taken the opportunity to look through my wallet and realised that my National Cycling licence not only has my full name and date of birth but my address too! Am thinking I’ll stash it at home rather than carry it around with me.

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Victoria

I am so glad to hear that you got your money back. Sometimes in these cases, the victim is made out to be at fault.
Thank you for the tips too.

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Aran

This happened to me to a lesser extent and I didn’t even have my purse stolen. I still don’t know how they obtained my information. The kicker – the thieves didn’t have my first name but somehow still were able to get credit using my first initial and last name. They didn’t even have the correct gender.
I only found out because my parents started receiving bills at their address, one I hadn’t lived at in 10+ years. As soon as you notice any suspicious behaviour like this, order a credit report right away!!!

Once I got the credit report, I realized that there were a lot of fraudulent accounts on my report. I spent a frustrating week of my Christmas vacation on the phone shutting down all the accounts. Make sure that you keep a detailed record of everything. Because the accounts were made in a fake name, I had to fight with the companies to get them to shut down the accounts and do an investigation. Unfortunately, the credit report does not provide all the information on the account (e.g. they redact the account #’s) which makes it even harder. Push for the companies to send you a letter/report on their fraud investigation and proof that they have closed the fake account. Make them tell you what identifying information was provided when they did the credit check.

What made me really mad is that the companies nor the credit bureaus were helpful or transparent in revealing how they do their credit checks.
The businesses who “checked” the credit with Equifax/Transunion are incredibly lax. In fact, one company told me the first initial/last name and birth date was enough to grant credit. Why would you do this for someone who opened an account solely to buy hundreds of dollars worth of pre-paid credit cards?? Corporate greed.

After this, the one thing I recommend is that you order your free credit report from Equifax/Transunion once a year. Even if your identity hasn’t been compromised, order it and make sure they have all your identifying information correct. More than one person I know has found that they didn’t even have the proper date of birth recorded on the credit report. Gaps in information or inaccurate information on the credit report makes it easier for thieves to open fake accounts.

Also, if you’re in Canada and your identity was stolen, besides creating a local police report, you should also call the federal Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre.

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