My Two Battles with Identity Theft and What I Learned: First Installment

Editor’s Note: This blog post has been updated. Read “My Two Battles with Identity Theft and What I Learned”.

Empish Thomas reading a braille book

My First Experience with Identity Theft

I never realized how vulnerable a person could be until my ID was stolen. Most of my life I felt very safe and never really worried about my personal information being tampered with. But in 1996, all of that changed. I had just started losing my vision but could still see colors and read large print. I was working as a sale associate at Macy’s, and it was during the Christmas season. The store was very busy, and we had hired extra help. Well, one of those people we hired stole my wallet and two of my co-workers’ wallets. Up to that time, we would always leave our personal belongings in the storage room and never had a problem with anyone meddling with our things. We quickly contacted the store security department and filed police reports.

The Thief Went on a Major Shopping Spree

Soon after that, I began to get letters from merchants saying that my checks were bouncing. I would call them and let them know that it was identity theft, supplying the police report number if they needed it. I had already alerted my bank about the theft, and they had closed my account, but the checks were still out there and the thief was using them to make all kinds of purchases. She spent hundreds of dollars on groceries. She purchased designer clothes and expensive perfume. She purchased antiques. She purchased popular video games and the latest electronics. All of this on my checks and good credit! The police seemed to not be very helpful, and I had to contact them to give them updates on what she was doing. I was able to do this by getting copies of my credit report from Equifax. The report would list the merchants where she used my credit to make purchases. During this time, I was encouraged to get a fraud alert placed on my credit report. This fraud alert would flag any purchases and prompt the merchant to contact me for verification. I had that done, but one merchant did not contact me and let the purchase go through anyway. The merchant apologized, but I told them there is no need to because it was their $900 loss, not mine.

a woman putting a twenty dollar bill into a separate section in her wallet

The Thief Tried to Rent an Apartment

The most outlandish thing she did was fill out an application for an apartment using all my personal information. I found this out when the apartment complex manager called me to ask some questions about my application. I was in shock! I told her that I had not come in and filled out an application. She then began to read the application to me and all my personal information that was listed: name, current address, place of employment, work and home phone number, Social Security Number, etc. I was floored! I told her this was identity theft. I asked her would she be willing to talk to the local police department, and she was more than happy to comply. Unfortunately, when the apartment complex called the thief on her cell phone, she did not respond. They were hoping to lure her back to the complex where she could be arrested. Shortly after this incident I got a call from the police department telling me the the thief was finally caught and arrested. When I went to court for the hearing, I was amazed that she looked nothing like me! She had obtained my check book, state ID card, Social Security card, and other personal information, but we looked nothing alike. The only thing is that we were both black women. I wrongly assumed that since all of the theft she was doing was in-person and she had to use my state ID that people would see that we did not look alike, but sadly that was not the case.

What I Learned

That was my first occurrence with identity theft. I learned some valuable lessons from that experience such as don’t carry your Social Security card in your wallet or have the number placed on your checks. I learned to file a police report and to contact the bank and credit card companies immediately. I also learned that you can place a fraud alert on your credit report, but it is not a complete guarantee that a thief will be stopped from making purchases. It is a very good idea to get a copy of your credit report each year to double check that everything is correct. Now you can get one copy for free annually. If you experience fraud or identity theft you can also get one copy for free. And of course, the most important thing I learned is not to leave my personal belongings unattended at work!

In the next installment, I will share my second battle with identity theft and the things I learned from that experience. Instead of battling identity theft from a total stranger, my experience was with a very close friend and her son. In the final installment, I will share tips and resources on how to not become a victim of identity theft.