Protecting Yourself from Fraud, Part 2 

By Bridget Fitzpatrick

How ironic and embarrassing it was for me, just a few weeks about writing fraud, to become a victim of identity theft myself! While the entire process has been devastating on many levels, I try to consider it a learning experience meant to be shared with others.  

It all started innocently enough (doesn’t it always?) while I sat down to work and clear the overwhelming junk in my email inbox. One in particular was annoying me several times a day, so I went to the bottom of the message and clicked Unsubscribe. 

Mistake number one. NEVER click on Unsubscribe from a source you never subscribed to in the first place. 

Suddenly, ear-piercing alarms were sounding from my laptop, and I was prompted to immediately contact Microsoft Tech Support to prevent “further breach of personal information.” It looked legitimate for sure, complete with the tech support logo of Windows. At first, I was skeptical, but when I couldn’t control my screen at all and attempts to just shut off the power were unsuccessful, I panicked and called. 

Mistake number two. Never trust a phone number that you cannot verify. Keep a separate index of legitimate contact information for your software and malware companies for this very reason. Naively, I made the call in my terrified state, and that’s when the misfortunate circus of my identity theft began. 

In addition to the alarms, my screen was now kidnapped, and I had virtually no control over it. Dozens of offensive pornography sites appeared – some frighteningly hinting of illegal sex trafficking. I had no control my cursor. A pirate took over, and nothing I was doing to turn off the computer was working. 

Trying to calm me, the imposter on the phone was trying to calm me down and was giving me instructions to no avail. Nothing he explained was working, and the cursor began typing in computer coding commands, which was unnerving, to say the least. This is where I’m pretty sure my identity was hacked. 

After unsuccessful attempts to stop it, Imposter 1 decided that I’d been hacked (ya think?), and transferred me to a woman from the Federal Trade Commission while Imposter 1 empathetically told her my situation.  

Imposter 2 cited her name, title and a bogus federal employee identification number. By then, I was regrettably hoodwinked. They were pros, preying on my panic and fear. 

While she was assuring me the fraudulent FTC would handle a freeze on all accounts associated with my name, damage was already taking place. Somehow the thieves managed to steal identity, bank account information and passwords for debit and credit cards.  

By the time the call ended, I rushed to my primary bank with instructions to close my accounts immediately. The Imposters had already done that for me. My checking account was completely depleted, and my credit score plummeted. So did my line of credit on the credit card I have with the same bank, and it will take six months for me to request an increase to its previous level. 

The bank staff was helpful, except it didn’t comfort me any to hear that this happens with their branch “every day” and I was “fortunate” it wasn’t something large like a line of credit. Well, that’s all relative when it’s you who’s been victimized. 

I filed a Delaware State Police report (required by the real FTC), immediately put a fraud alert on my Experian account and changed every password I could think of in my arsenal. I replaced all credit cards, even canceled two.  

Fortunately, none were apparently compromised, but I did learn from the FTC that my identity had already been used (or attempted to be) prior to that day. My name and my husband’s were even misspelled on a few of the fraudulent accounts. I was informed I won’t be responsible for any illegal purchases but was told it typically takes up to three years to straighten it all out and get my credit score back to where it started. 

Fortunately, my retirement savings and mortgage were not affected, which could have been disastrous.  

It’s been four weeks since this happened, and I am still working on it. There are accounts potentially affected you don’t think about immediately, such as utility and internet subscription services. 

Based on my personal experience, I offer a few recommendations in upcoming Part Three. By happenstance, the State Policeman who filed my theft report happens to specialize in Sussex County’s reports of fraudulent incidents. Read on for more, which includes wisdom from his expertise.  

Meanwhile, stay organized, vigilant and safe. There’s only one you, so protect everything you have worked a lifetime to establish. 

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