Credit or identity theft is a major problem. Last week, I myself became a victim!
It’s the holiday season and we’ll all be online and in stores shopping, right? We'll be buying gifts for friends and family, (and maybe a few for ourselves!) - so this incident, and the actions I took afterwards to protect myself, are timely for us all.
I was in Miami, Florida, for the Alliance of Comprehensive Planners annual conference (an always inspiring and fantastic event). While I was down there, I started receiving phone calls from my various credit cards letting me know that there were weird charges on my account. No, I told them, I did not purchase anything from “The Tire Rack” in Michigan and even though I was in Miami, I hadn’t visited a Taco Bell at 10:00 in the morning the day before (even though that does sound like me). Various purchases spanning multiple cards had been hit for over $500 in fraudulent charges.
The weird thing: one of the cards was my American Express, which I have kept in my office drawer at home for years. I don’t really use that card unless for some kind of emergency and I keep it open because it has a long credit history and a really high limit. I like that, in the event of an emergency, I have access to cash and credit fast. My other card was still in my possession in my wallet. Clearly, someone on the internet had access to my name, credit card number, my billing address, and probably some other personal info.
So what did I do?
First – a shout out to Visa and AMEX for flagging these purchases – not sure I would have caught those until the next time I looked at my credit card statements, a practice I sometimes neglect to do for months since I enroll in autopay.
I immediately had Visa and AMEX cancel my cards and re-issue me new ones.
Since someone had access to my confidential credit info, I went and checked my credit report immediately to make sure that no one had opened up a line of credit in my name. Phew – I was safe!
Next step – freeze my credit. I went to each of the credit reporting agencies, Transunion, Equifax, and Experian, created online accounts for each, and placed credit freezes on my accounts. This means that if someone tries to open a line of credit using my name, social security number, address, etc., the credit reporting agencies will deny access to my info and thus the line of credit denied. This is a bit of a pain because if I want to open a line of credit in the future, I have to go through the process of unfreezing the credit before doing so. A hassle, yes, but I can also rest easy knowing that hackers, schemers, or bad guys can’t use my good name and credit for their gains.
Next – I went through my credit card and account statements just to make sure there was no additional fraudulent activity on my accounts. Fortunately, it appears that there wasn’t.
A final step – I went in and changed my various email passwords. Chances are these were not compromised, but if some of my other data was hacked, I’d rather not take any chances. If you don’t use a password manager, I recommend companies like LastPass or Dashlane – they keep your usernames and passwords encrypted in the cloud so you can not only get them anytime, but they also alert you if the passwords are duplicative across multiple accounts (bad) or not complicated enough (also bad). I was able to easily change sensitive website passwords and quickly update in my password manager to ensure I don’t lose access. Convenient and secure!
All of this took me about an hour in total to do. And now I feel confident that whatever information was out there on the web that allowed people to try and make these purchases -- all that compromised info has been shut down. The card numbers they were using are cancelled with new ones issued. And if they go and try and open an account in my name, that too is off the table.
One thing I will make sure to keep an eye out for is if my social security number is out there (probably likely), that I will want to file my tax return as early as possible to prevent someone from trying to file a fake tax return in my name.
The no-good-doers are everywhere. Protect yourself. But also, don’t let it freak you out when you become a victim.
Stay calm. Follow the steps I took. Recover and move on.
And enjoy your holidays!
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