I can still remember the conversation, almost verbatim: "Dr. Cortman, this is Rachel from ABC Bank. How are you today, Sir?"
Me: I'm well, thank you, Rachel, unless you tell me otherwise."
Rachel: No, sir. But I did want to ask you a question: "Did you try to move your Home Equity account lately?"
Me: " Move it, no. Why do you ask?"
Rachel:"Well, we had a man in a North Carolina branch yesterday who said he was you. We have you in our files as a doctor; he told us he is a carpenter. Do you know any carpenters?"
Me: Sure, but I don't think Jesus was into identity theft. Were you able to arrest the guy?"
Me: "Did you give him any of the money I don't have?"
Rachel: "No, sir. But I suggest you call the police and file a report. You may also want to check on your credit, as this guy evidently has your social security number."
That was just the beginning. I then heard from Best Buy, Apple and a couple of furniture stores in North Carolina where Mr. Hammerhead was nailing me with significant bills for purchases of couches, video games and big screen TV's. Interestingly, about half of the companies denied him access; the other half accommodated him.
Aware that I now had an alter personality in another state, part of me wanted to applaud him for his ingenuity and ambition. But then again, maybe ambitious is not the best descriptor for a guy who steals couches and big screen TV's. Still another part of me felt sorry for ol' Hammerhead. He obviously had an issue with low self-esteem, if the best he could aim for in life was to say he was me. Normally, when people are delusional they will attempt to take on the identity of kings, dictators or saviours of humanity. Rarely, will they shoot for small town psychologists with substantial debt. If he were my patient, I'd advise: "You need to aim higher; try to steal the identity of someone with more money and fewer kids," I'd say.
Of course, the whole experience of being victimized by identity theft left me with two outstanding questions to ponder: how did a guy who lived in a state I had not even VISITED for at least five years get his hands on my social? Secondly, how can this sort of thing be prevented?
To answer these questions, I turned to the wisdom of Tony Bradley, Certified Information Systems Security Professional (CISSP) and analyst with the Bradley Strategy Group. Mr. Bradley asserts that most identity theft is not about "the internet or lax computer or network security." Sophisticated hacking devices are involved in only a small percentage of identity theft. Most of the crimes are the result of more primitive methods of chicanery, like dumpster diving or copying your credit card number at the local watering hole.
So what to do? Bradley provides several tips that may help you avoid the hassles of recovering from identity theft, like compromised credit scores and telephonic explanations as to why you would not be inclined to drive to the Carolinas, however lovely they are this time of year, to purchase a big screen TV for your Florida home. Bradley's tips range from the obvious (beware of people peering over your shoulder at the ATM) to the advice that no one wants to hear (pay all your bills at the post office so they can't be stolen from your mailbox.)Here are some other words of wisdom that may help:
Be very protective of your social security number. While often requested, providing your social security number is rarely NECESSARY. Get a shredder for your home and/or office and obliterate anything and everything that contains your personal information.
Likewise, never put more information on your personal checks than is necessary.
Also, let the buyer beware of internet companies that are not well-established. We have all heard of rip-offs on advertisements that really were too good to be true. If you haven't heard of the vendor, check them out with The Better Business Bureau, on-line chat rooms or bulletin boards. It's easy to Google the company and gain immediate feedback from previous consumers.
Most importantly, keep an eye on your carpenter.