The Other I.T. -- A Cautionary Tale

Posted by Michael Collins in Life After Paralysis on May 23, 2017 # Safety

The initials "I.T." have a couple of common meanings, one good and one definitely not good. On the plus side, Information Technology is something used on a regular basis. The other IT, Identity Theft, is a major problem worldwide and something we are all at risk of in situations that are beyond our control. Despite heightened levels of security, identity theft incidents continue to impact some of the largest corporations and public agencies.

Those of us who live with chronic disabilities or health conditions need to be extremely vigilant as our personal risk level rises each time we interact with an entity that requires our identifying information. In my case, because of my spinal cord injury, I have provided my personal information hundreds of times to a broad variety of individuals and organizations including doctors, dentists, specialists, hospitals, banks, insurance companies, credit unions, landlords, mortgage brokers, tax preparers, the Internal Revenue Service, prospective employers, DME vendors and an unknown number of local, state and federal agencies that handle everything from drivers licenses to passports. Each time I willingly divulge that information, it is done with the hope that it will remain secure and out of the eyes of people who would use it for nefarious purposes.

Because of my mobility impairment, I also do online banking and bill payment services so I do not have to deal with addressing envelopes or traveling to my credit union. I have employed numerous caregivers who have been in my residence throughout the span of my disability, and several years ago someone stole blank checks from a file folder in my home office and tried to cash them for large amounts. I remain vigilant to assure that cannot happen again.

Earlier this week I learned that my worst fears about possible identity theft were confirmed. Despite my best efforts, someone had used my personal identifying information--my name, along with my address and social security number--in an attempt to steal money.

I learned about it on a day when my mail included four envelopes from a major bank where I have never done business. One of the envelopes contained a new credit card plus all of the related paperwork; it required me to call a toll free number to provide that card number as verification and I would then be able to use it. The other three envelopes were from the same bank's fraud unit, advising me that they believed someone had applied for and received a credit card by using my personal information and that it may be involved in a fraudulent transaction.

I followed up immediately, starting with a call to the bank's main office to have them connect me to the fraud unit; they confirmed that fraud had occurred. They also informed me that the thief had tried to transfer over $8,000 from the new credit card account to a bank in Kentucky. Since I live in Washington State that apparently raised a red flag at the bank.

My second step was to contact my local police department, where I filed a fraud report. Once I get a copy of the full report I will be able to obtain a seven-year hold on my credit record which should prevent anyone else from trying this same thing.

Going online to the Experian website allowed me to check my credit report to see what other unusual transactions might have been listed. The temporary fraud alert I then placed on my credit report was also shared with the other two credit reporting companies. Each of the three major credit reporting agencies must give us one free report each year and I also plan to enlist in a credit monitoring service.

I like to think that this happened through no fault of my own, as I know that my social security number shows up on every page of tax documents and checks I send to the IRS. There are also rings of crooks that are selling lists of personal identifying information, so who knows if this was purchased or shared from some unusual source. In the past, I have been a part of databases hacked or stolen from Yahoo, hospital medical records, a federal agency and a former medical insurance company. In each of those instances I was advised that I could receive a year of free credit monitoring services but did not take advantage of those offers.

While I am a bit uncomfortable admitting that I have vulnerabilities, I firmly believe that it is important for everyone to review their own level of security in order to avoid major problems that might occur whenever some unknown entity decides that they want to do something illegal while posing as us.

© 2017 Michael Collins