Fun In Canada

I was recently on a trip in Northern Canada – you know the place where there is no cell phone reception and you can purchase 1 MB of Internet…weekly…  Given the exchange rates and my awesome credit card, I just took my credit card with me.

Big Mistake.

On the third day of a 7-day trip, my card was declined.  It took me 4 or 5 hours but I finally found somebody with a standard phone and I called my bank, IRATE, and asked why I had been shut down.  They knew I was going to Canada (you ALWAYS have to tell your bank ahead of time these days) and my credit limit was completely open.  So WTF?!?

As it turns out, I got my identity stolen – or at least partially – the day I left for Canada.  Later I found out that the timing was purely coincidental – the people trying to steal my online life were in NJ which is FAR away from me.  Fortunately, I had a backup debit card from another account and that got me through the trip.

First The Good News

I said “partially stolen” as I have a LARGE number of defenses in place and those eventually stopped the would-be thieves.  They were able to somehow post a new address to my credit report (more on that down below) BUT I have a special passcode that is required to access my account online and a DIFFERENT passcode for accessing my accounts over the phone.  When these idiots tried getting to my accounts over the phone, they failed.

Second, I actually do report to the bank whenever I leave town and thus they knew I was not in NJ.  Still, the thieves did make 3 charges, for under $100, to my account but the bank reimbursed me for those charges.  Using a bank credit card – as opposed to a credit card from some provider or a separate bank – was my last line of defense.  The bank knows me, the local branch has seen me before, and they are much more willing to help me out.

Then The Education

I found out that hard way that my supposed protector, LifeLock, was woefully inadequate during this scenario.  The address change did hit their system but they failed to think it was a high priority so I was never contacted.  When I did bring the issue up with them – by this point I had a new credit card on its way, I had been reimbursed for the fraudulent transactions and there was nothing else to do – LifeLock did tell me that they would do anything they could to help.  I fell under their $1M protection policy but, mainly due to my protections in place, I did not need that service.

I also found out that I REALLY should have locked my credit file with one of the major agencies – I chose Experian randomly.  By locking your credit report, nobody can gain access for ANY reason unless you authorize it.  In addition to this fraudulent theft attempt, I found out a Discover card credit run on my file that I never authorized.  Credit runs actually hurt your credit rating and this one cost me a LOT of points.  As an added benefit, locking your credit file actually boosts your credit score.

The User’s Guide

Based on my experience, here are the steps I highly recommend if you suffer identity theft or need protection:

  1. Call Your Bank/Credit Card Provider
    1. If you do not have a bank credit card, cancel your existing card and get one from your bank
    2. Ensure that your bank/credit card provider locks your card so that you have to report any travel before you can use your card outside of your home area
      1. I know this sounds annoying BUT you can easily call the number on the back of your card even if you are already somewhere else
    3. Create TWO DISTINCT passcodes
      1. One for phone access
      2. A separate one, ideally using two-factor authentication, for online access
    4. Report Here First!
      1. If you lose your card, suspect fraud, see something wierd in your online banking account, etc… your bank/provider the FIRST place to call!
      2. You will find almost all providers now take care of charges and help you more than anybody else
  2. Call The Credit Agencies
    1. This is CRITICAL
    2. Even if you get your credit card/online banking figured out, you need to ensure nothing else bad happened during a theft
    3. The Main 3 Are:
      1. Equifax – 866-640-2273
      2. Transunion – (800) 680-7289
      3. Experian – (888) 397-3742
    4. Get Protection
      1. If you can afford it, use one of the service options provided by one of these agencies
      2. Otherwise, ask them to lock your file without the service – more annoying but free
  3. Go To
    1. One the main page, at the top, click the Report Identity Theft
    2. Officially registering here could protect you from MAJOR losses/issues if the theft recurs or if more happened than you caught
  4. Think About LifeLock
    1. I still like what they offer and, since I only use the Experian service, I like that LifeLock does send me alerts that the other agencies send out
    2. Still, I no longer rely on LifeLock for as an upfront line of defense