Imagine falling through the cracks. It’s a scary feeling to find yourself in, especially if you are in a foreign country. But that’s exactly what happened to my friend Jane — not her real name.
She was abroad during a recent vacation when the ramifications of identity theft reared their ugly head. Here is her story, as told in her own words:
“We arrived in Paris on a Sunday, which happened to be Bastille Day. We then took a second flight to Toulouse to stay with friends in a beautiful little town nearby.
“On Tuesday, we took everyone to dinner. When the check came, I offered to pick up the tab on my credit card. It was rejected after several attempts. Luckily, my husband’s card worked, but I was very concerned.
“Using our hosts’ phone, I called the credit card company, stating to the representative that I didn’t understand why this happened – I had notified the company we would be in France before we left. Her response startled me:
‘You called on Saturday the 13th at 5:30 pm saying that you just moved to California and in your move, you misplaced your card.’
‘That’s when we were boarding a plane, so I know it wasn’t me who called you,’ I told her.
“She said the representative recording that call had received satisfactory answers to all of the pertinent security questions:
- Date of birth
- The last four digits of my social security number
“The person posing as me had all my information! The representative offered to expedite the card. My imposter then asked if the rep would add someone else’s name to the card, so now there are two cards: one with my name and one with this California woman’s name.
“The rep then told me I’d have to verify that I was who I said I was. I replied that it would be difficult for me to do so, because I was in France.
“She asked how she could reach me to verify my identity, which presented a second challenge: I didn’t activate the international calling plan for my cell phone before we left. Fortunately, our friends had been talking to their friends in the States via a Wi-Fi telephone service. They connected my phone to the Wi-Fi and the credit card company rep was able to call me back.
“Otherwise, I don’t know what would have happened.
“I told her to freeze the credit card. Next I had to repeat everything to the Fraud Division. The company ended up sending a temporary card to meet me on the next leg of our journey, which I could use for the remainder of our trip. They said a new permanent card would be waiting for me at home.
“The whole episode was eerie. But the scariest part was coming home and getting calls, supposedly from the bank, asking me to verify my date of birth.
“The credit card companies have been extremely helpful fixing this. I was fortunate that there were no charges on the account because the thief didn’t have the actual card, or the numbers on it.
“I never did find out who the thief was. I called the Fraud Department to ask if they were able to catch her, but they said they couldn’t release that information!”
I hope that Jane’s cautionary tale serves as an inspiration for you to do more to protect your identity. One thing you can do is call your bank to ask for a new set of security questions. When you are answering them this time, consider replying with fictional information. Things like your date of birth and your mother’s maiden name are easy to find.
Next time, we will talk about how to proactively protect yourself from fraud…in the meantime, don’t fall through the cracks!
Judith Heft, Principal, Judith Heft & Associates is a personal financial concierge with offices in Greenwich and Stamford. She can be contacted via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone 203-978-1858.