Background to my writing this book

In 1986 I opted to stop paying rent and enjoy the benefits and privileges of the American Dream – home ownership. After finding a house I liked, I started the long, exciting and confusing process of obtaining the loan to purchase it. There I hit a glitch. It appeared that I had outstanding and past due credit accounts with TWA Airlines for flights to the Bahamas and with a New Jersey furniture store. I also owed a few other businesses money. None of these accounts were mine. But my name, employment data and credit information was used on the applications for the accounts.

How could this happen if I did not open the accounts? An accounting clerk in the company’s headquarters opened the accounts using knowledge of my employment and with credit card numbers that were on receipts submitted for expenses. (It should be noted I was not the only victim. The company never officially admitted how many employees were affected but a contact in Company Security confirmed it was several.) This happened years before Identity Theft was common knowledge.

I finally resolved my issues, but only after I was able to push back my house purchase by 30 days to give me the time to fight the paper tiger. Had the sellers not been cooperative, I would have lost the house. Even years later TWA refused to remove the charges against my Credit Report. The charges were finally removed only after they were so old they automatically deleted.

In 2001, I was again a victim. This time, only one bill with a Doctors Office was involved. I am very certain who the thief is but will not name them. Although after 90 days I was able to get the item off my credit report, by then it had already cost me as much as 1/2% interest on a mortgage. One half of one percent on $145,000 adds up to a lot of money over just a few years. One very small issue, but a very big expense!

The first time may have been preventable if I had removed credit card numbers from expense receipts as the thief used them to open other accounts. The second time likely was not preventable given the perpetrator’s access to my information.

You can describe your Identity as a wall of bricks. Each piece of information on you is a brick. Your social security number is a brick. Your birthday is a brick. Every credit card is a brick. Every loan you have – mortgage, furniture, cars, home decorating store, car tires, easy financing for a new TV – is a brick. Every job you have had, every address you have used and your military service are all bricks. Your passwords, email accounts, bank account numbers, telephone numbers, pets’ names, children’s names, parents’ names – these are all bricks.

What an Identity Thief wants to do is get enough of your information {bricks} to convince someone that their fake wall with some Real bricks and other Fake bricks is your Wall of Identity and thus they are you.

Many people assume Identity Theft is exclusively the result of organized criminals breaking into computer systems or into a businesses and stealing customers’ data. Or that a large business or government agency carelessly gives access to critical information to the wrong people. Yes, those things happen, and way too often. But they are far from the only way you are at risk, and they may be the least of your worries.

The other primary way people think their identity can be stolen is by responding to emails asking for information. Fake emails not sent by the business that it appears sent it. Yes, this happens and with greater frequency each month. You might feel falsely safe because you do not even have an email account. However, you can still be at risk from these same kind of imposters.

Why do people assume that the two previous ways are the only causes of Identity Theft? Being blunt, the news media. The old saying in the news business is, “good news is no news”, so the worse the news, the better. Reporters love to find stories about big companies or a government agency that recklessly discloses consumer information. The two biggest advertising tricks are Sex and Fear. Leaving sex out of the 6 O’clock News leaves only Fear. The more bad news [Fear] they can report [sell] to you, the better they are doing their job, in their bosses opinion.

A reporter could get fired for writing a story about one person who was hit with Identity Theft because they left their wallet in a store. Does that sell papers? No. But what about someone breaking into the same store and stealing information on 10,000 customers. Now that is news! It affects at least 10,000 different people. This is a story you would read. But a story about Herb losing his wallet? Yea, nice to know, but not really affecting you, unless you are Herb. And if you are Herb you would already know what a fool you had been so you would not need to read it. You would not want your friends to read it either.

Unfortunately, most people think that someone else is responsible for them being a victim of Identity Theft. The careless government agency, the hapless business robbed by criminals, or a lazy employee tossing sensitive information in the trash. In the real world, preventing Identity Theft starts at home. A recent Federal Trade Commission Study estimated that approximately 78% of all Identity Theft involved a relative, a friend, the victim’s business contacts or someone with direct contact with the victim.

Sadly many people are victims because of something they did or did not do. Frequently it is something very easy to correct.

As you read this book keep track on a piece of paper every time you hit an area where you are guilty of committing a crime against your own Identity. The score is for you. It is to show you some places you must take action to protect yourself.

There can be other ways people place themselves at risk. If you think of a new one that you are guilty of, write it down and make it part of your own personalized Identity Protection Plan.

It is easier to lock your car to keep it from being stolen, than it is for the police to get it back after it is gone. Turn the page and start locking up your identity.

John Carter