Back on my 300th post I offered up an "ask anything" opportunity so today I'm going to spend some time discussing the most stressful time in my life - my identify theft. Thanks to Sarah at Flying Kites for asking me to explain my situation. Sarah is an amazing person with 2 A-DOR-ABLE boys!!! Seriously, they are so cute . . . and her oldest son is unbelievably smart (he's 3 and can already identify all 44 US presidents by photo and in order and can locate all 50 states - I'm 36 and can't do that!!!!). So without further adu, the story of my identify theft (warning: this will be a long post. After you get through the details of the beginning - it gets pretty interesting -it's not your normal story).
Background time line:
May 2000 -I bought a necklace at the mall with a newly opened store credit account (my intention was to buy this very girly piece of jewelery that I could have waiting for me when I returned home from Basic Combat Training as a celebratory thing)
9/11/01 - A day that changed America forever
9/12/01 - I was activated with the army (I spent my 8 hours of army "rest" continuing to teach and spent the other 16 hours each day on Active Duty 45 miles away from my home. I worked 24 hours a day during the work week and 12 hour shifts on the weekends. I was crazy busy not to mention scared out of my mind with the "new world' we were living in and worrying about what was next from the army activation stand point).
9/18/01 - Anthrax attacks began and lasted several weeks which resulted in severely altered and delayed East coast mail delivery (where I lived at the time)
Early November 2001 - didn't get much mail, but did get some things like the AOL cd's (remember getting 200 of them each week?) and some catalogs.
11/20/01 - This was my pay day and also the day that all my utility bills were normally due; however, I hadn't received any of my bills. I walked into the main post office during my school lunch break as a naive young professional and walked out tainted and a victim of a felony!
Here's how it all played out:
11/20/01 @ 11:30 a.m. - This was very close to Thanksgiving because the federal holiday ultimately delayed the investigation. During my school lunch break, I went to the post office where they told me I wasn't getting my mail because I had put it on hold - WHICH I HAD NOT DONE!!!!! The postal worker brought me the "hold mail" card that I had supposedly filled out. The worker got kind of pissy with me saying that "See, that's your signature!" UMMM - NOPE, that's NOT MY signature!!!! She then said, "You must have forgotten. See here (she points to a part on the card), you picked up your mail on 11/3, 11/5, and 11/7." UMM- yeah, I have amnesia and you're right I forgot that I picked up my mail on those 3 days!!! - NOOOOO I DIDN'T pick up my mail. This began the entire "am I real Wells L" or was the person who signed the card and picked up my mail the real "Wells L"?????? Ever tried to prove YOU ARE YOU!!!!!! They gave me my accumulated mail - a HUGE pile (like 100 envelopes).
11/20/01 @ 12:15 - I got in my car and opened up the first letter from Eddie Bauer - BILL - I owe $365. I opened the 2nd envelope from Hechts - BILL - I owe $1780. I opened a 3rd envelope from Circuit City - BILL - I own $2270. I began shaking - this is what identify theft loks like - how could this be happening to me. I'm serving our country on active duty and I'm educating the inner city children of America. What!!!!! I walked into the school office and told them I needed the rest of the day off. I spoke to the school resource officer (city police officer) who was my friend. He said he would come over to my house after work to do a police report - I'm unbelievably grateful for his help!!! The technology teacher, also my friend, left school with me.
11/20/01 the rest of the day - First stop after leaving school - the bank! Close all my accounts, stop all payments, order new checks, open new accounts, stop auto drafts, everything! Immediately FREEZE everything. That was a helpful first step - BUT it kept me from being able to access my own money for like 2 weeks - hmmm, that was kind of bad! After the bank, my friend Laurie and I went back to my house where we opened one envelope at a time. After 2 hours of both of us opening one envelope after another - there were 34 accounts opened in my name. I called each of the credit bureaus and reported fraud, put a fraud alert on my credit report and froze them. Also a great first step, but 5 months later, my condo flooded and I needed to get a new cell phone and new carpet - I didn't have any way to open new credit - NICE!
While on the phone with the credit bureaus I learned that there were an additional 12 accounts opened that I didn't have bills for - it became evident that these were picked up on those earlier November dates by the FAKE Wells L. The credit bureaus sent me credit reports in the mail (NICE, right?!). Let me just say those 10-12 days waiting on them to arrive felt FOREVER. The next steps was to call every single company (all 64 of them) and dispute the charges - a HUGELY time consuming process. The day after Thanksgiving (which was just a couple of days after 11/20), the postal inspector and a secret service officer came to my house to investigate. They were very nice and assured me that it was over and not to worry about any more fraudulent activity would take place. They said it was done by someone in my family and someone I know. UMMM - NOT!
Tuesday after Thanksgiving - THE.GREATEST.DAY.OF.MY.LIFE!!!! The ring leader and his partner as well as the 20 year old black girl (yep, cuz she looks exactly like me!!!!NOT!!!!) who actually went into the stores and used my identity were all arrested and put in jail!!! Woot woot!!! But wait - the men posted bond and later jumped bond!
Remember how the postal inspector and secret service agent told me it was over and there would be no more actiivty AND I put a freeze on my credit - yeah, on 12/5 I got a call from Lowe's "Ma'am, we're trying to deliever the hot tub that you ordered on line last night but it appears the address we have is a parking lot in Norfolk, VA - is that correct???? " OMG NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! That was probably the lowest low I have ever had until later that week when I got a phone call from the secret service and they came to my house after school.
HERE's the "good part" (things big screen movies are made of) -
$3 million dollars worth of Pentium 4 processing chips were ordered by the ring leader and his accomplice who had jumped bond USING MY NAME AND CREDIT (cuz school teachers make enough money to be able to afford that kind of computer stuff). They hijacked the UPS truck and stole the processing chips. I was told they would flee to Mexico and sell the chips on the black market and would for all intense purposes were gone! For a short while, I had to prove that I wasn't involved in the whole heisting of the chips from the UPS truck.
Right after Christmas break, I was once again visited by the secret service at my school - only this time there wasn't just the one agent that I had been working with - there were 3 of them. They walked me right out of school and right into one of their black cars. And my world changed drastically again. It was discovered that a life insurance policy had been taken out in my name by the 2 guys. This is ginormous! As you know, you can only collect on a life insurance policy if the person is dead. So . . . I was given 24/7 secret service protection for 6 months. That's a whole story all by itself, but it made for quite an experience.
As a result of this initially "simple" case of identity theft becoming more and more complicated, the Feds investigating my case realized this was something they had never seen before. They created a new term to describe it TOTAL IDENTITY TAKE-OVER. This new crime brought national attention to my case and landed me on the ABC evening news with Peter Jennings (via satellite) and also made an appearance on the Oprah show (via satellite) not to mention countless appearances on the local television news and radio stations.
Ultimately, I resolved all $64,000 in fraudulent charges, got the $500,000 life insurance policy canceled (which ended my protection detail), and was at court in all 3 jurisdictions (I think there was a total of 38 court dates). I saw the girl get sentenced to 6 years in jail in each of the 3 jurisdictions (total of 18 years and VA is a non parole state so . . . she's still sitting in there plus she'll have 20 years after that of parole). Sadly, the guys are pretty much off the hook unless somehow, someday, somewhere they get arrested for something else and the VA warrants are pulled.
As a result of the severity of this case, in addition to the severity of several other identity theft cases in VA, the state attorney general changed some laws. I met some of the other victims who had unusual cases - made mine look like a walk in the park (except for the park where I had a "hit" out on my life). One of the ladies had her identity used to get fake boobs. HOW do you prove those aren't your boobs????? One guy's identity was stolen by an illegal Mexican immegrant who killed a cop in Vegas. So when the fraud victim (completely unaware his identity had been stolen) was pulled over in VA for running a stop light and the police ran his name and SSN - it showed he was a cop killer!!!! OMG talk about immediate and severe police treatment. In a split second he had 30 police officers pointing guns to his head and immediately taken to jail and extradited overnight to Vegas. How do you prove that wasn't you?????
Questions you may still have:
1. How did they get my information? Although no final answer was ever obtained (so frustrating), there is a strong suspicion that the man working at the jewelery store who opened my store credit account was paid by the ring leader for people's information. Other theories are general dumpster diving, someone in my army unit (unlikely), or the ADT security system sales rep who sold me my home security system (unlikely). What we do know for sure is that it WASN'T someone I knew or someone from my family like I was told initally!
2. How did my mail get placed on hold? Did you know (at least back in 2001), you could put anyone's mail on hold?!? Additionally, did you know that you can forward anyone's mail (at least back in 2001 that was the case) to anywhere at anytime?!?! So if you hated your neighbor, you could just go to the post office, fill out a card with his/her name on it and address and have it shipped to Anchorage Alaska if you wanted to.
So, I think that's about it in a long nutshell - sorry for the length. Have you been a victim of identity theft? How did it work out?