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Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Sure you’re who you say you are…

This week I had the pleasure of talking to one of my high school classmates; but the conversation was blunted by the harrowing, frustrating, tale he had to tell. Two years ago, he and his wife had their identity stolen making a purchase at a local mall.

It took two weeks for them to realize their identity had been stolen; and they only found out when a Wal-Mart employee called to check a credit application that looked strange. After finding out, my friend cancelled credit cards and sent out letters to the credit checking agencies. This barely began to stop the nightmare.

During that two weeks, the thieves managed to steal over 250,000 dollars, and came within a postage stamp of taking out a second mortgage on my friend’s house. The thieves sold the identity after it was stolen, and one of the buyers managed to obtain a driver’s license that was a very good copy of my friend’s, with the exception it had the buyer’s picture.

The buyer then went to a jewelry store to buy a $5800 necklace. The cashier checked the ID, then called the “safe number” my friend set up after reporting the theft. When she began talking to my friend, in Texas, she confirmed her suspicions, as she was in Virginia! Thieves, using my friend’s credit, have purchased at least three vehicles.

Credit is usually stolen in one of the following ways: going through your trash, stealing your information with a special storage device when you make a purchase, by pretending to be a financial institution thereby convincing you to reveal personal information, stealing your wallet, or using false pretences to get banking institutions or utilities to divulge your information. Once they have one piece of your information, they will use that to get other information to make a more complete picture. Once they have enough information, identity thieves can get a job using your social, open utilities accounts in your name, commit all kinds of bank fraud in your name, and even give your name to police if they get arrested.

The government website,, has lots of useful information about preventing identity theft and what to do if your identity is stolen. In brief, you should file a police report, check your credit reports, notify your creditors, and begin to challenge any disputed charges already on your accounts. Time is of the essence because identity thieves act quickly, knowing you will take these steps once you realize you are a victim.

If your identity has not been stolen, consider getting identity insurance. Most insurance companies have policies that will help pay to restore your credit and good name. However, if you purchase the policy after you are a victim, then the insurance is far less effective, because the insurance won’t cover you between the theft and purchasing the policy, and you will have a difficult time convincing the insurance company it wasn’t related to the earlier theft.

My friend and his wife are still recovering two years later. It has taken a huge toll on them, their relationship, their kids and of course their finances. Every time they think they are at the bottom, a new hit appears on their credit. I hope you make it a point to safeguard your information and check your credit reports often just like a medical checkup.

Mark Altman is a speaker and leadership consultant with the Altman Leadership Center. He has graduate work in Marriage and Family Counseling and is working on a PhD in Leadership studies at Gonzaga University. He can be reached at

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