Monday, October 22, 2007

Identity Theft! (Updated)

It appears my wife has been a victim of identity theft. We got a letter last week from a check approval company saying a check had been bounced. The account number was not ours and it was written at a store we never shop at. Further, my wife never writes checks. I mean, like never! I pay all the bills with our joint checking account and she has her own checking account that she only uses a debt card with. So when we got this letter, we figured it was some sort of database glitch that matched her name and address up with someone else's account.

Then Saturday, we got another letter, this time from the Kroger grocery company. This one said she had bounced two checks. We called them up and found out some more info. Kroger had already written the checks off as uncollectable. The checks were written at a Fry's grocery store in Peoria. They had my wife's driver's license number on them and were drawn on a Wells Fargo bank account. My wife has never had a checking account at Wells Fargo. We requested copies of the checks.

The next step was contacting the police department and filing a report. We had a bit of a problem determining which police department to contact. We first tried our local police, but they said to call the Peoria police because that was where the checks were written. Peoria said no, we need to call our local police and they would open the case, gather some evidence, and if there was enough to investigate further, they would pass it on to the Peoria police. So we finally managed to get our local police to take a report. The copies of the checks, when they arrive, will also be turned over to the police for evidence.

We also contacted all three national credit agencies and put a 90 day fraud alert on my wife's credit file. This can be done via an automated process over the phone. Once we have a copy of the police report, we can submit a written request and the fraud alert can be extended to a year. Thankfully, I have been reviewing our credit reports every four months, so I know exactly what should be on my wife's report and should be able to easily spot anything new. I believe activating the 90 day fraud alert also triggers the sending to us of a copy of her report. The checks were written the last week of September, so there's a three week window where the thieves could have been using her info without our knowledge.

We also contacted the Federal Trade Commission and filed an identity theft report with them. We don't know how much information the thieves have. We know they have a name, address, and driver's license, but we don't know if they have a social security number or anything else. You need a social security number to open a checking account these days, but they could have used a fake one. (We're hoping they did.)

Today, we're going to visit a Wells Fargo branch and try to shut down the phony checking account. We'll speak to a manager and find out what we can do. If he won't shut the account down for some reason, I figure since it's in my wife's name and address, we can just go to a different location and tell them to close the account.

I figure the theft must have been the result of a database hack at some company or an insider job somewhere. I have a shredder and shred anything that has personal information on it. We also had our names taken off the pre-approval lists for credit card offers a couple years ago and that status has been verified each time I check our credit report.

About two weeks ago, we had another anomaly that I now wonder might somehow related to this. My wife started getting phone calls from people asking about a car she had for sale. The only problem was, she didn't have a car for sale! We did some research and it turns out someone placed an ad at for a used car for sale. The ad listed my wife's cell phone number. I emailed the person who placed the ad and got back a typical scam email message. The seller was supposedly located in Scottland on business, but the car was in Arizona and if I would send them my name, address, etc., they would send me information on selling the car via an escrow company. Typical email scam. We filed a fraud report with Autotrader and the ad has been taken down. They told us the ad was placed over the phone at an Arizona Autotrader office.

So far, we've had no direct financial impact. The bounced checks have all been from accounts that aren't ours. There is no unusual activity in my wife's bank account or on her credit cards. It looks like someone is using her identity to open new accounts rather than take money from her existing accounts.

Update: Wells Fargo has no record of any accounts using my wife's social security number, so that's a good sign. They also have no accounts under her name at our address. They suspect what happened was someone got some checks from a valid account and "scrubbed" them - chemically took the legitimate name and address off and printed hers on. Wells Fargo can't do anything until we get the copies of the checks, which will have an account number on them.

Since they do have her driver's license number, we're going to contact the motor vehicle division and have a new license issued with a new number.

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