- The Washington Times - Friday, February 7, 2003

The horrible realization that someone has stolen your Social Security number and used it (as well as your name) to open an account, run up a bill and then leave you to face the fraudulent music is one I would hope I would never have to face. My luck ran out last week, however, when I went for a new wirelessphone service.

Nate, the young market representative for Verizon, called me to his terminal. With a quizzical look on his face, he asked if I had any other phones with Verizon. No, I replied, except for my home service.

“Have you been to Florida recently?” Again, no. What’s the problem?

He told me that the company’s in-house file showed that I had bought six phones from Verizon Wireless about three weeks earlier, had run up a bill of more than $1,100 and that the company had been trying to contact me for payment. The “Anthony Carr” in Florida was dodging phone calls. The folks they talked to at the address on file said he didn’t live there.

At this point, I was getting nervous. I asked to look at his terminal, and there in black and white was my name, next to it was my Social Security number. It was there because they conduct credit reports on customers before signing them up for service.

In Verizon’s opinion, I was a scofflaw, a moocher, a deadbeat wireless user who hadn’t paid the bill and was now trying to acquire even more phones from another office.

I had heard about identity theft. I had even feared it, knowing that the information necessary to pull it off was out there for criminals to pluck like a ripe cherry.

Think about it, when was the last time you provided your Social Security number to a merchant or organization? Look at your driver’s license. Is it there? Your name and Social Security number are all that are needed for a company to run a credit check on you or on someone pretending to be you.

The last time I sat for my driver’s license photo, I requested that another number besides my Social Security number be used as my ID. And I’ve been doing that regularly now. It’s used by many corporations as an ID number, and it shouldn’t be. Even medical insurance companies default to using it in some way for member ID numbers. My old Social Security card says at the bottom: “For Social Security and tax purposes not for identification.” The new cards Social Security issues do not carry that warning.

But, back to the real story here me. My biggest fear was that this person was opening credit cards left and right, buying cars, even applying for a home loan, using my identity, my credit, my income level as his own threatening my good credit standing.

Once he got what he wanted, I could see him taking a first-class flight to Tahiti on the credit card with my name on it and just before boarding the plane, pulling out a huge cash advance for his last hurrah.

I called Verizon’s fraud investigations department right at the store. Fortunately, Larry, the investigator, was sympathetic and gave me some instructions to help clear my name in his investigation: fax to him copies of my driver’s license, Social Security card and a recent bill to my current address. These three items would help substantiate that I was the real Anthony Carr.

Next, I called all three credit reporting agencies and put a fraud alert on my credit files. This was done on the phone through an automatic system. It was quite simple. Now, the next time a credit report is to be pulled on me, the three agencies request more personal information that an ID thief might not have birth dates, billing addresses and so forth.

Under this fraud alert, which can last from 90 days to seven years, the credit bureaus are supposed to check with me to verify my identity whenever a new account is requested in my name.

Then I paid for a 3-for-1 credit report that pulls my credit report from all three agencies. The Verizon credit check which I did not order was there, but nothing else since then.

I’m not done with the follow-through, but I’ve gotten a good start.

Fortunately, I had refinanced my house a month earlier and knew there was nothing incriminating on my file. If I hadn’t applied for these wireless phones, I would not have known this person had used my personal information for his personal gain.

Here are the toll-free phone numbers for the credit reporting agencies where you can place a fraud alert on your credit report: Equifax, 800/525-6285; Experian, 888/397-3742; and Trans Union, 800/680-7289.

Don’t wait till fraud hits close to home. Go ahead and learn what you would do if your ID is ever lifted. Here are three Web sites with more information on identity fraud: www.IdentityFraud.com; www.TrueCredit.com; www.PrivacyGuard.com.

TrueCredit.com offers an e-mail alert system where the online service notifies you each time a company conducts a credit check on you. It is just $10 per year and well worth the peace of mind.

M. Anthony Carr has written about real estate for more than 14 years. Reach him by e-mail (manthonycarr@erols.com).

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