Tuesday, March 25, 2008

No Joke.

My identity has been thieved. Absconded with. Jilted, even.

Two weeks ago, The Husband was purchasing and obligatory 72 doughnuts from Dunkin Donuts (don't ask, they literally made him) for a work meeting when our Visa was declined. This actually didn't raise his eyebrows too high because (1) the clerk said that it was probably her machine and this happens all the time, and (2) it happened to me at the same Dunkin Donuts a few weeks before with three different cards, none of which had any reason to be declined. She reran it; it went through without a hitch. He then made a purchase at Wal-Mart with no problem on the same card. However, paranoid/wise security specialist that he is, he called Visa to make sure there were no problems. He learned of a $1,500 charge to Amazon that we had not made. Because the card is really in my name, I called, disputed the charge, closed the account, and ordered a new card with a new number. In fact, Visa had already flagged the charge, declined it, and had some kind of security alert on the account. Go Visa.

The Husband and I discussed whether we needed to order credit reports, file a fraud alert on our credit reports, or other options. We meant to make a decision on it that weekend. Life got in the way. We hadn't forgotten about it, but we let a week lapse and still hadn't addressed it.

Meanwhile, I noticed I wasn't getting my Gmail anymore. Well, specifically, I was getting it but with increasingly long delays. Finally, last weekend, I stopped receiving email altogether, despite knowing that I had made online orders (with the new Visa number, as well as with another card) from major companies that I knew must have sent confirmation emails.

I poked around in Gmail for a while, assuming there was just some glitch in my account. Lo and behold, I stumbled upon a setting whereby all my incoming email was getting forwarded to another account and deleted from my inbox. An account I'd never seen before. To say I felt violated is an understatement. It felt gross. People always say that it does, and Holy Monkeys, they're not kidding. It felt like someone was in my house. In my life. In fact, they were. They were reading all my email. But wait, it gets worse.

I was finally able to recover some, but not all, of the missed emails in my Trash folder. There I discovered two emails, one from BananaRepublic.com and one from Gap.com telling me they'd received my returns and credited my account. Wait, what? I haven't ordered anything from either website in months, though I have a BR card. The emails listed the ordered items; uh, I'm not and never have been a size 2.

By this time, The Husband and I were strongly suspicious of some sort of keystroke tracking software being planted on my laptop (or possibly his desktop) by some hacker. I had hightailed it to Ouiser's house to use her Internet to stop whatever damage was being done, since I obviously couldn't do a darn thing from my infected computer. Ouiser was a saint and took care of my baby and hers for hours while I was on the phone and online trying to stop the runaway train.

Do you have any idea how hard it is to get a fraud alert placed on your credit bureau files if they've already caught wind that something's amiss? There's tons of info online regarding what to do if you suspect your identity has been stolen. That's great, really. But you can't get a live person on the phone at any of the three credit bureaus. And guess what? If there's a security alert on your file, you can't get to anything online. It took me forever on the phone to finally get a fraud alert placed with all three bureaus and order a copy of my credit report from all three.

I've also learned that once I receive my credit reports and go through them with a fine-toothed comb, I need to file reports with the FTC and my local police. I spent today on the phone with Visa and BR trying to get the details of dates and charge amounts and shipping information for the fraudulent orders (about $2,500 in all, that I know of, so far). I've closed or requested new numbers for every single credit card I have. We still need to follow up with our banks, but it's complicated because of the move and switching over from one bank to a new one.

Oh, and here's a kicker: I was poking around Amazon.com last night after changing my password, trying to determine if there was anything else I needed to do. You know how they keep a record of addresses you ship to? Funny I should run across a little lady in OH and a gentleman in CA whom I'm darn-tootin' sure I never shipped anything to. I'm sure they're fake and will be dead-ends for the authorities, but I'll certainly turn them over, just in case.

And, as Ouiser quipped, "What does Brown do for you?" A heck of a lot more than I realized, apparently. At least two of the three BananaRepublic.com and Gap.com orderes that were placed were returned because the idiots tried to ship them to our old address in Tucson; UPS knew that the house was vacant and suspected fraudulent activity. So they just returned them to sender. Thank you, Mr. UPS Guy. Thank you, thank you.

The activity started mid-month. We don't know if someone has hacked into The Husband's computer. VERY unlikely. He's got some pretty sophisticated protection in there. I could have gone somewhere I shouldn't have online; although I'm not perfect, I do think I'm more careful than most, so I really don't know how it could have happened. I don't recall being anywhere weird. But it definitely happened through the computer, not snail mail or through our garbage or the movers or some application we filled out, etc. They had all my passwords. They shopped at the sites I shop at. They must have been recording keystrokes.

Anyway. Use sophisticated passwords. Don't visit suspicious sites. Update your antivirus protection. Hug your UPS man. And for the love of capitalism, check your credit card balances frequently so you can nip suspicious behavior in the bud.

I haven't seen the end of this and will be dealing with it for quite some time. Thankfully, we already bought our house and have our mortgage, so I don't need a spotless credit anytime real soon. But that's a silver lining borne of shear luck. Others are not so fortunate. If it can happen to me, with a husband who knows more about protecting against this stuff than anyone I've met, it can certainly happen to you.

I'm off that particular soapbox now. Class is dismissed.


Anonymous said...

honey that all sucks, I'm glad you found it when you did, I will hug the UPS,FedX man for sure. It definately makes me very aware of what I do on line. enjoy S&B's visit love M

die Frau said...

What a nightmare. I asked my computer techie friend what to do and he said to change my passwords often. I have a pretty complex password, but now I may take even more precautions.... I hope you get whoever did this!