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