Many people I talk to think identity theft can be a pain but once it’s resolved it's over. Not so! Let me tell you the story of a victim we called "Ann," whose really awful story my colleague Joe Mason and I chronicled in our book on child identity theft "Bankrupt at Birth.
Ann told us that in 1998 a woman living in the New York City area opened at least 22 accounts using the scammer's real name and address, but using Ann's Social Security number. Most of the accounts were for bank issued credit cards, a few were for department store credit cards, and one was for a health club membership. The woman would use the cards for awhile, run up a balance, and then stop making any payments. Most of the cards had balances under $1000.
Ann never knew any of this until in 2002 when she and her husband tried to refinance a house they had purchased in 1997. When the mortgage company ran a credit check using just Ann's name her accurate and vey clean credit history came up. But when they ran her Social Security number, the identity thief's credit history came up. It was three times longer than Ann's real history, and a complete mess. Ann's mortgage broker helped her track down the city and state that the accounts originated from. She filed a police report in NYC, and the woman was arrested. When asked how she got Ann's Social Security number, she replied she had simply made it up.
Over the next six months Ann sent certified letters to all of the banks and merchants where the fraudster had obtained credit cards. She sent a copy of her Social Security card, driver’s license and the police report number. Over time, with a lot of back and forth, each and every account was cleared off of her credit history.
Once she again had a clean report from all three credit agencies she though while it had been time consuming and hard work, certainly an annoyance, it was over. Problem solved right? Not by a long shot.
For a full decade Ann heard nothing. She assumed it was just a bad incident that she long ago had corrected and put behind her. Then round two began.
In January, 2012 she received an alert from her bank that she had insufficient funds in her checking account and a second warning that she suddenly had insufficient funds in her savings account to pay a claim of over $4000.
The payment was to a collection agency in an attempt to collect a debt. They said they had no case under her name or her husband's. But then she gave them her Social Security number. Again after much back and forth it turned out the debt had belonged to the scammer who a decade before had fled before her trial The collection agency had obtained a New York court order put a lien on her bank accounts in an attempt to collect a 10 year old AT&T bill that had never surfaced in the original fraud case.
The court order was in the name of the scammer but then added Ann's name as a "also known as." She went to her bank and filled a identify theft "victim’s complaint affidavit" that resulted in the bank freezing her account. No money would go to satisfy the lien but she could not touch the money either.
Weeks of back and forth ensued. Ann sent all sorts of documentation to the collection agency including a statement of the case from the original New York police detective who remembered the case well. But it was not until lawyers got involved, and lawsuits threatened, that the lien was removed. Now Ann worries that the "also know as" will pop up again.
There are any numbers of morals to this awful story the main one being that in identity theft cases, you don't know what can still be lurking out there in some file that might come back to haunt you. In Ann's case she was lucky she had voluminous files she had kept over the years documenting everything, every letter, every affidavit, etc. So when the problem hit ten years later, she could just reach in this file.
In identity theft, as Yogi Berra reminded us, "It ain't over til it's over, " and that can be a very long time.