Oh yeah. It happened to me a few months ago. It’s horrific, it’s ongoing and the system is set up to keep the thief’s identity a secret from you. No joke. If you’re looking for a plot, feel free to take these personal details of my life.
Confession #1: I never saw the Melissa McCarthy/Jason Bateman movie about identity theft. I can’t imagine how they made this life-altering, helpless violation humorous.
Confession #2: I’m one of those people who thought it’d never happen to me, so I’ve carelessly and freely given out personal information. I am Mrs. Casual about leaving my purse unzipped on my shoulder or plopping it in a shopping cart as I turn my back and bag tomatoes. In the game of chance, this was bound to finally happen.
In this instance I’d stuck the open purse on the hook of a Tallahassee hotel trolley as my husband and I loaded suitcases from the room onto the cart. I never saw one hotel occupant or employee pass our room as we loaded that cart. No one shared an elevator down to the lobby. When I hoisted my purse again at the car I instantly knew, by the much lighter weight, that my wallet was gone. To this day I do not know how it was accomplished. But my debit card was used for gas half an hour later (while I was still tearing through suitcases and taking the room apart looking for the wallet.) Why did I not instantly assume it was stolen? Because again: that would never happen to me!
Confession #3: I didn’t know the meaning of real identity theft. Like most of us, I’ve had a credit card ‘used’ at a store in another state/country and the bank called asking if I was presently at that store. “No, I’m not,” I answered, outraged, “and the card is still in my possession.” That’s what I thought of as “identity theft.” And in my defense, you hear the term so often it loses it’s terrifying impact. Huge companies are inundated with breaches in their cyber security and the nightly news helpfully keeps us in a constant state of fear that our “personal information” has probably just been stolen.
Confession #3: After immediately canceling credit cards (right there in the hotel parking lot at 6am) I figured that’s all I needed to do. It never occurred to me any other harm could come from the theft. Oh, I was annoyed they’d gotten some Christmas gift cards I hadn’t gotten around to using. And now I was without my Sam’s card, AAA, driver’s license, car and health insurance cards…all inconveniences. But if they’d planned on shopping with my AX and 2 Visas they were in for quite a surprise! They had my debit card but not my PIN. Shrug. We got in the car and drove off. In hindsight, that was the biggest mistake we made. Driving away from the scene of a crime and not calling the Tallahassee police and filing a report. Never occurred to us because we thought we’d handled it.
Confession #4: I had no idea that once a thief has access to the information on your driver’s license, getting your social security number is a snap. Did they con a government official or hack into the social security system? I’m not stupid enough to carry that precious number out in public, and providing your social security is the only way you can apply for credit cards.
Confession #5: Because of the combined idiotic naiveté listed above, I was utterly shocked when Capitol One called me a few weeks later asking if I’d applied for their credit card.
The second I was off the phone my husband enrolled me in one of the 3 Credit Reporting Agencies (Equifax, TransUnion and Experain.) They have a service very similar to LifeLock. The customer rep immediately walked me through how to ‘lock down’ my social security number. If anyone were to use it from that moment forward it sends a red flag to the company to call me and ask if I just applied for a credit card.
Confession #6: I had no idea I could sign up for this service any day of the week, without an emergency like a stolen wallet. Small fee ($99) for 6 months of a watchdog service. You can even order them to alert you if your credit card balance increases by–you give them the $ range. Example: $200 increase triggers an email/text alert. (Happy Christmas shopping.)
Conveniently the 3 companies ‘talk’ to each other, so you pay one, but get information from all 3 immediately. There’s a link that lets you see all 3 Reporting Agencies lists of credit cards you have taken out in the last 3 years. (None, btw. Mine should have been a blank page.)
And this is what I saw: all within one day my social security and name had applied for cc’s to Target, Best Buy, Loews, Home Depot, Capitol One, Citibank, Wells Fargo, Northern Tool, T-Mobile and H.H. Gregg.
Conveniently, this link also provides toll-free numbers for each of these companies. Inconveniently, these numbers are not the Fraud Department. Fraud Dept numbers are also not listed on any of the websites.
Confession #7: I thought a 2-3 minute call per company would clear up each case. Uh…no. I think my fastest call to shut a card down was 20 minutes. Average was more like 40 minutes. Why? Because I’d get in the mechanical loop of ‘if I want ___ dept, please press one now.’ None featured a magical number to get the Fraud Dept. Inevitably I chose Customer Service. Spilled my sorry tale. Most put me on hold because they did not know what to do or say! Eventually they provided a different toll-free number. Sometimes it was right, sometimes I would be transferred several times before reaching the Fraud Dept. Sometimes, I would get disconnected and have to start over. On average I’d tell my sorry tale to 3 company representatives before I heard, “I can help you with that.”
Confession #8: When a Fraud Dept tells you they have nothing listed under your ss#, but the Credit Reporting Agencies have that company listed, do NOT assume the Credit Agencies are wrong. T-Mobile told me nothing showed up and reiterated this quite sharply when I argued that they were listed as a company being defrauded by someone using my name, address and ss#. What could I do but thank her and hang up?
It was the last of the companies I had to call that very long afternoon, and in exhaustion and frustration I gave up. But it preyed on me that someone was wrong…the company or credit agency. I called T-Mobile a week later and explained to another Fraud rep that I’d spoken to his colleague and she’d checked my ss# and seen nothing. Could he please check again? After looking up the ss# he said with resignation and dread: “Oh they got you all right. They got you good.” 4 T-Mobile phones and 4 T-Mobile phone numbers.
In the end the thief or thieves got away with $2,000 of goods by forging a check at Sam’s (who does not return canceled checks to your bank. I have to think the thieves knew that.) Over $2,000 at Home Depot because they applied for instant credit AT the checkout register. $47 worth of gas on my debit card (while I was still searching the hotel for the wallet.) No PIN needed if you’re using it as a cc. God knows how much T-Mobile ate. $2600 at H.H. Gregg, a store I’d never even heard of and they, like T-Mobile, do not show my ss# in their system still. But it’s listed on all 3 Agencies sites.
Confession #9: I figured the companies being defrauded and eating these charges would pony up information on the thief. Nope. Once in awhile the rep would slip up and give me an area code on the application. One actually felt sorry for me and told me the purchases occurred at 2 stores in Miami. 4 T-Mobile Welcome letters finally showed up in the mail with 4 phone numbers and they were Miami area codes. ALL companies ask if I’d called the Tallahassee police and opened a case file so they could add their information about the thieves. Oops. (We tried to report it weeks later and it fell on deaf ears.)
Confession #10: The easiest, most logical step to stop this was impossible. I called the Texas DPS to ask them to flag or cancel my license. She apologized and said there was no way to do that. There was actually nothing they could do to alert any companies or other states’ police departments that my license was being used for nefarious purposes. Her exact words were: “I’m sorry, you’ll just have to wait until the license expires.”
So if you are looking for a plot I give full permission to use my experience. You’ll need a character who has a specific world view in the beginning, (i.e., naïve-‘nothing like this will ever happen to ME’) then goes through the wringer and comes out at the end of the story an altered person. The theft occurred moving from Houston to southwest FL. I defy you to find my new hometown on any media site. Because any new personal information is now locked up, like my ss#. And my trust in my fellow man.
Serious and Silly: I’m thankful for my husband’s Elvis impersonation. I swear it made me fall in love with him.
Serious: I’m thankful for my three incredible children and the beautiful world we live in.
Silly: I’m thankful that my son and daughter will be home for the holiday. (Seeing a trend?)
Serious: I’m grateful for my mom and sisters and all the laughter we share when we’re together.
Silly: I’m grateful for my DVR because it means I can take the time to talk to a friend or get interrupted by a family member and not worry about “missing” anything during my favorite show. The DVR puts me in control of TV, unchains me from the box, and means way less viewing time since it’s on my schedule, not theirs. Plus, fewer commercials. Yay!!
Serious: I am grateful for my husband who is the love of my life, is always there for me, and thinks I’m great even when I’m not. What did I ever do to deserve him?
Silly: Rite-in-the-Rain notebooks for jotting down story inspirations while in the shower or tub.
Serious: I’m grateful that I live where I can pursue my dreams and take that journey with the people I love most in this world.
Silly: I am thankful to Bonita Boarding and Kennel Camp for taking my little hooligans off my hands every morning.
Serious: I am thankful for the final safe return of my older brother, from 18 months in the US Embassy in Afghanistan. (In the picture he is holding Flat Stanley, some 3rd grade class drew and mailed it to him. Too cute!)
Silly: I’m thankful to Netflix and Hulu which kept me from losing my mind during my six weeks of mandatory IV antibiotic treatments.
Runner-up: I’m thankful to my wonderful friends (Lena, Carey, Rachel, Diana, Gwen, Krista, Sarah and Sharon) who also kept me from losing my mind during those six weeks.
Serious: I am grateful for my husband and two children who have brought me more happiness than I deserve.
All of us are so grateful for your recovery, Manda. We love you!
If anyone wants to share a silly or serious thing they’re thankful for today, we’d love to hear it.
The minute Halloween ended, the stores had their Christmas decorations up. Yikes! So now I’m thinking Christmas gifts. And romance. Because, uh, romance writer.
Which got me thinking me of my first Christmas with my husband (a.k.a. The Engineer), back in our dating days. He bought me aftermarket cruise control for my car.
Right up there with vacuum cleaners you say?
Well, maybe. Would I have swooned for some jewelry? Oh yeah. But romance is about more than cards and flowers and gems. You can have all that and still end up with a dud instead of a stud. Flowers and jewels are easy outs. Pick one and I’ll probably like it.
No, the real challenge in my mind—and the real definition of romantic—is knowing your partner well enough to get a gift he or she will truly enjoy. It shows you’ve been listening and have given a lot of thought to what would please.
In that respect, in spite of what his roommate thought, The Engineer’s gift was wildly romantic. We had been driving two hours each way to another city every few weeks for family visits. Without cruise control, I was constantly battling my lead foot and my (then) sporty five-speed to stay within a reasonable speed limit. How much nicer life would have been if I had a newer car with cruise so I could relax. I definitely didn’t need any more speeding tickets!
Well, the newer car was out. We were poor college students, after all. But the cruise control… Who knew you could put something like that on after market? The Engineer, of course! And he installed it too. See? Smart, handsome, and handy with a tool. How could a girl go wrong? :-D
And every once in a while, he gets totally impractical and buys me something pretty that I don’t need. Like jewelry. Which makes it all the more special, because he also understands that sometimes I just want something that sparkles.
What’s the most romantic (or unromantic) gift you’ve ever received?
Twelve Shades of Midnight, an anthology of 12 all new paranormal novellas is out today! My novella, Midnight Sun, is included and I’m thrilled to be part of this amazing lineup of authors for my first foray into the paranormal.
I’ve had a blast working with the other authors in the making of this anthology! From brainstorming titles to coming up with Easter eggs hidden in the stories, the messages between the members of the group have been hilarious. How lucky am I to be in this amazing anthology?
Twelve Shades of Midnight
The stroke of midnight ushers in many things. From hijinks and mischief to danger and evil, romance is the magic that binds these paranormal novellas together. Join 12 bestselling and award winning authors as they explore the different shades of midnight in exclusive, never-before-released stories.
Liliana Hart – THE WITCH NEXT DOOR
Darynda Jones – A LOVELY DROP
Shea Berkley – DARK SECRETS: STONE COLD DEAD
Dakota Cassidy – WITCHED AT BIRTH
Claire Cavanaugh – MIDNIGHT RENEGADE
Rachel Grant – MIDNIGHT SUN
Trish McCallan – SPIRIT WOODS
Angi Morgan – BODYGUARDS IN HEELS: HIT & RUN HALLIE
Robin Perini – NIGHT OF THE JAGUAR
Robyn Peterman – SWITCHING HOUR
Ann Voss Peterson – THE SCHOOL
Jenn Stark – GETTING WILDE
We’re celebrating the launch tomorrow with a Facebook party with lots of games and prizes. This is your opportunity to find out what I mean when I say how funny these authors are! Click on the image to RSVP.
Because I love exploring the similarities and differences in the answers, I subjected the Twelve Shades of Midnight authors to the Inside the Actors Studio quiz.
What is your favorite word?
|Dakota: Serendipitous||Robyn: Yes|
|Angi: Conundrum||Rachel: Necropolis|
|Shea: I’m a writer. It’s nearly impossible to whittle it down to one…but I do love my name being said by someone who loves me.||Jenn: Kabillion. Except that’s not a word I don’t think.|
|Robin: Cacophony, just because it sounds cool.||Claire: Happy|
|Ann: Fabulous||Liliana: Dude|
What is your least favorite word?
|Dakota: Can’t||Robyn: No|
|Angi: Procrastinate||Rachel: Racial and homophobic slurs|
|Shea: Snot. It’s just one of those words that sounds gross and refers to something gross.||Jenn: Disappointed|
|Robin: Moist…just ’cause, well, yuck.||Claire: Anything prejudicial|
|Ann: Ensconce||Liliana: Moist|
What turns you on?
|Dakota: Serenity||Robyn: Humor and a nice ass|
|Angi: Being shown love||Rachel: Captain America|
|Shea: Kisses on my neck…soft, slow kisses. (sigh)||Jenn: The eyes have it: If a glance is intentional, intense and interested (from the right guy), I’m in.|
|Robin: Slow dancing and swaying to the music||Claire: Eagerness and humor. Cleaning my house doesn’t hurt either!|
|Ann: Coffee||Liliana: Brains, baby. Followed closely by the ability to make me laugh like crazy.|
What turns you off?
|Dakota: Whiners||Robyn: Negativity and lack of humility|
|Angi: Talk Talk Talk and More Talk||Rachel: Rudeness|
|Shea: Hypocrisy and arrogance. They often go hand in hand except the person demonstrating these qualities rarely knows they’re doing them.||Jenn: Abuse of any sort–mental, verbal, physical–no matter the scale. If you don’t choose your adversaries nobly, you suck.|
|Robin: Unkindness||Claire: Stress|
|Ann: Running out of coffee||Liliana: Bad hygiene|
What sound or noise do you love?
|Dakota: Laughter||Robyn: My kids laughter|
|Angi: Ocean waves and puppies playing||Rachel: My children’s laughter|
|Shea: A drumline. It’s all about the beat, baby!||Jenn: The gentle crash of ocean waves|
|Robin: A baby’s laugh||Claire: My granddaughter’s magical laughter|
|Ann: Wind chimes||Liliana: Rain and thunderstorms|
What sound or noise do you hate?
|Dakota: Sloppy eaters||Robyn: My alarm clock|
|Angi: Leaf blowers||Rachel: My husband’s alarm clock|
|Shea: My cat hacking up a hairball. Why is it always in the middle of the night? And does he clean up his mess? Nooo. He tries to bury it in the carpet, and I’m the one who’s got to clean up the nastiness he leaves behind.||Jenn: My cat demanding breakfast at 4:15 a.m. Every. Morning.|
|Robin: Telephone ring||Claire: A dentist’s drill|
|Ann: My alarm clock||Liliana: Teeth scraping against a fork|
What is your favorite curse word?
|Dakota: Dicknuckle||Robyn: Fuck|
|Angi: Damn||Rachel: Fuck|
|Shea: Arse, but only when British people say it. It makes me giggle.||Jenn: Fuck. Such a multitasker.|
|Robin: I don’t have one.||Claire: Damn, and any variation thereof|
|Ann: Fuck. Really, so versatile!||Liliana: Douchecanoe|
What profession other than your own would you like to attempt?
|Dakota: Supermodeling||Robyn: Chef|
|Angi: Photography||Rachel: Travel writer who gets paid to go everywhere on vacation (Rick Steves, I want your job)|
|Shea: A falconer. Hunting with a bird would be fun.||Jenn: Artifact Hunter|
|Robin: CIA Analyst, because I think it would be fascinating, and it would bring me that much closer to the books I write.||Claire: FBI agent in my dreams. Travel writer as a possible reality.|
|Ann: Horse trainer||Liliana: Professional shoe shopper and cheese fry eater|
What profession would you not like to do?
|Dakota: Porta Potty maintenance||Robyn: Computer programmer|
|Angi: Anything with math||Rachel: Wearing a hot dog costume and passing out flyers.|
|Shea: Sewage worker. Does anyone actually want to be a sewage worker?||Jenn: Social worker. My heart would break or I’d want to seriously beat up people every day.|
|Robin: Sewer Maintenance. Self explanatory :)||Claire: Anything involving strange smells. I have a weak stomach.|
|Ann: School teacher, way too tough||Liliana: Anything dealing with poop|
If heaven exists, what would you like to hear God say when you arrive at the pearly gates?
|Dakota: “Your castle with a turret, high on a hill, with all your family members and pets inside is to the right.. :).”||Robyn: “It was a close one, but I was owed some favors. I was in the middle of a Scrabble tournament before you arrived, would you like to join me?”|
|Angi: “Welcome home.”||Rachel: “I’ve decided to make an exception for you.”|
|Shea: “It’s about time you got here. You did good. There’s an all you can eat chocolate section next to the sushi bar and steaks grilling on the barbeque. And the mashed potatoes are so creamy…and fully loaded.” (yeah, the way to my heart is to feed me comfort food)||Jenn: “Good job.”|
|Robin: “There really is a reason for everything, and if you’ll come with me, I’ll explain it all.”||Claire: “You really gave your guardian angel a work out, but I’m glad to see you made it, Claire.”|
|Ann: “Everyone you love is here or on their way… eventually.”||Liliana: “Your family and friends are waiting for you. And there’s an all-you-can-eat buffet.”|
And the winners from last week’s post are:
Kieran Kramer won Suzanne and Melanie Brockmann’s Night Sky
and Kim K. won Heather Ashby’s Never Forget.
Congratulations, ladies! Please use our contact page to claim your prize.
Thanks to everyone who commented! ~ Sharon