Something really annoying, and potentially frightening, has begun happening to me. It’s caused me to do a major amount of research, while I lose sleep waiting to find out if my life is about to be thrown into unwarranted turmoil or not.
And I’ve debated whether or not to even talk about this, but I realized a lot of the information I was researching might not be as well known to others, and perhaps – just maybe – someone out there could benefit from this. So, throwing aside any potential humiliation and in an effort to purge some of this anger that has been keeping me up at night and has kept me from writing for the last few days, I shall tell you my tale.
First I should preface this with a reiteration of this one fact: I have no debt.
I know that sounds odd in this day and age. Everyone uses credit cards, right? Everyone has store accounts and charges things, right?
Wrong. I don’t. I used to, just like everyone else, but then – – about two years ago – – I stopped. I closed my accounts, I paid my entire debt load, I wiped clean any and all bills and balances. What I did, along with my sister who also owns the house we live in, was get a Home Equity Loan. These are different than Home Equity Lines of Credit – which is just a fancy credit application that allows you to go further into debt. A Home Equity loan is a lump sum payment based on the equity you’ve built up in your home, typically and in our case applied to the paying off of all debt.
So, when I say I paid off all my credit cards and closed all my accounts, what I mean is the bank did that for me. They researched my credit, found every debt I had, every account open in my name, (as well as my sister’s) and after verifying they were all legit, the bank paid the balances and closed all the accounts.
My sister and I have been living happily debt free for just about 2 years now. We have the Mortgage, car payments, and the Home Equity Loan, all through our credit union. The only other bills we have to our names are utilities, like the satellite TV, the cable internet, the water/sewer, natural gas, electricity . . . no lines of credit.
I don’t owe anyone money. And, because it was the smart thing to do, I registered our home phone number with the Federal Do-Not-Call registry.
So last month, when I was finding calls on my answering machine with no message, I shrugged it off.
When I would occasionally get a call that started out with a recorded voice saying: Please hold, one of our operators will be with you shortly. I’d simply hang up, roll my eyes at the illegal telemarketing attempt, and put it out of my mind.
Then, a few weeks ago I answered the phone and a man with very poor enunciation asked for a Kristen W–. That’s not how you pronounce my name. And I’m only guessing on the spelling of what he’d just said. I said “Look, buddy, this number is registered on the Do Not Call list, and you’re not even able to pronounce my name, so clearly you’re not a company I do business with.” And as I was hanging up, this ass hole is laughing.
It bugged me. I was angry and frustrated for a few hours, because let’s be honest, phone calls are another way of letting people into your home, and this was the equivalent of having some jerk on your doorstep trying to put his foot in the door so you can’t close it.
A week later, another phone call. Another complete mispronouncing of my name. “Who’s calling?” he slurred it so I had no idea what company this was. “What do you want?” his reply “Are you Kristen W–?” “Who are you and what do you want?” (I wasn’t going to explain how he’s mispronouncing my name, and I wanted to know what he wanted so I could report the call) “I can only talk to Kristen W–”
I hung up.
For the next few weeks, I keep getting this call. The recording asks me to wait (this is a practice ruled illegal in my state) so I hang up. My answering machine shows a message, but there’s nothing there.
Last week, I answered. Same guy, mispronouncing my name. “Is Kristen W– there?” This time I said “This is the W– residence.” Then – and this is what started my full-on panic mode – he says “I need you to confirm the last four digits of your social security number.”
Yeah. Now I admit, I could have handled this differently. I should have handled this differently. But when he said that, my survival instincts kicked in, coupled with my natural suspicion, and fueled by all the scams, phishing and other crap we hear about on the news every day. So instead of handling it carefully and with a cool head, I freaked – he’s rattling off the last four digits of what may or may not have been my number, I couldn’t hear clearly for the rushing of blood in my ears, and in a panic I said “I don’t know who you are, and there’s no way in hell I’m telling you what my social security number is.”
And I hung up.
Then I panicked. Were they phishing? Is this a scam? Why do they keep calling if they’re just fishing? WAS that the last four digits of my SS#? And if so, how in the hell did they get it? And why are they mispronouncing my name?
With shaking hands, I began my investigation into credit reports and what my rights are. And in doing so, I learned that every citizen has the right to a free credit report from the three companies involved in credit reporting, once every 12 months. This is a Federal Right, and only one company is legally authorized to provide this information to you.
They’re called the Annual Credit Reporting Agency, and they’re here: www.annualcreditreport.com
They have a form you can print out, fill out, and mail. Or you can request your free report online, or make a phone call. The three companies who tract and report your credit are:
Now, if you go to each company’s web site, they’ll try to SELL you a credit report. And a service to monitor your credit. But I’ve learned from reading up at the FTC’s web site that this is a bad idea. They’re required to give you, once every 12 months, a free copy of your credit report. The FTC recommends you take advantage of this service every year, and either order all three at once, because they can differ somewhat, or order one from each company every 4 months or so, to keep a closer eye.
I know for a fact that, two years ago, there was nothing wrong on my report – the bank checked it. But in between then and now . . . I’m starting to worry. Someone out there has bastardized my name, used my SS# and done God knows what to my credit report.
That’s my fear, anyway. So I sent away for my report, from the first company, with the intention of checking the other two later this year. I did this via snail mail because now, with whatever this is happening, I’m too afraid to fill out an online form using personal information including my SS# and involving my credit.
Oh, one more addendum – I use extremely tight security on my PC. I have anti spy ware, anti virus, and privacy software. I use ZoneAlarm Pro, not the free version either. My laptop is friggin’ Fort Knox.
And while my sister keeps telling me to remain calm, that they’re most likely confusing me with someone else, and there’s probably nothing I need to worry about – and to at least calm down until I get that credit report back in the mail – I can’t sleep.
Last night was a zinger. I get the phone call again, this time a woman, who’s asking for Kristen X. W–. That’s NOT my middle initial, and again she’s mispronouncing my name. I asked who she was, she gave me some company name I’ve never heard of. I asked what this is about, she said she’s not going to tell me anything until she can confirm I am Kristen X. W–, and by doing that, I must confirm to her my correct social security number. I said there was no way in hell she was getting that information. She said she would call back when MR. W– was available.
I started to tell her there IS no MR anyone at this number, but she had hung up.
So last night, since I wasn’t sleeping, I began investigating my rights under the law – what to do if and when I find incorrect information on my credit report (it should arrive by the end of next week). And what I’m expected to do if I suspect I’m the victim of Identity Theft.
Lemme tell ya . . . it ain’t good news.
First, if you feel you’re the victim of Identity Theft, there’s squat the police can do. They’ll file a report, and that’s it.
Second, if you find incorrect information on your credit report, you’re fucked. Sure, the FTC has a form you can fill out, but they don’t investigate or fight for you. They simply log the data in a big database. They have a form letter you fill out, then YOU mail that to the credit reporting agency, telling them what charges you’re disputing, and THEY decide if they think you’re telling the truth. If they feel you’re lying, based on God knows what, they’re not required to do anything. If they feel you’re telling the truth, they’re not required to do anything OTHER THAN put a little note in your file that you’ve disputed the report.
That’s f-ing it. Your credit is fucked, you’ve filed all the reports and made all the proper claims, and they get filed and documented, and you’re fucked.
They put it on YOU to contact all the people involved, and they put it on YOU to prove you’re not the Joe Schmoe thief who stole your name and SS# and charged up a flat screen TV then failed to pay for it.
I’m losing sleep, and I don’t even know if I’m affected yet. I have to wait for the credit report to come – and no, I’m still too nervous to get it online using their web form. And I know when it comes, I’ll be too scared to even look at it. I’ll hand it to my sister and leave the house, have a good cry, get hammered, then come home scared to death and wait for her to tell me it’s okay or not.
Realizing I could be the victim of Identity Theft, or Credit Fraud, is bad enough. Having this – what I presume must be a collection agency – calling me every day when I have NO debt and owe no one any money, is raising my blood pressure. Being unable to make them stop unless I’ll give them my full name and social security number has me screaming mad.
Finding out that if I’ve been victimized, if my credit has been messed up and someone is using my name and number, then I’m completely and utterly fucked – is keeping me up at night.
If you’re still reading this post, and you’re thinking this could never happen to you – I pray you’re right. I figured having no debt, having not one single credit card to my name, would keep this from happening to me, and I was wrong. So learn from this. Check your report at least once every 12 months. It’s free, it’s your right as a citizen, and it’ll give you a heads up before something gets out of hand. And keep in mind, if you become a victim of this crime . . . you’re fucked.
I’ll keep you posted.