Lila was surprised to see a police car pull into her driveway on a rainy Saturday afternoon. Everyone was home, so she did not panic.
The police officers told her that her postal deliverer, the Postman, made a habit of stealing her mail. Apparently, he took mail from his entire delivery route.
The police informed Lila that the Postman likely stole her credit card information and identity directly from her mailbox.
Lila soon realized that Postman also stole gift cards sent from her mailbox to friends and family members. Of course, those people never received those gifts. Rather than feeling celebrated on their birthdays and anniversaries, they assumed Lila forgot about them.
Stealing mail is a criminal federal offense. Not in a million years did Lila expect to not trust her own mail carrier—or that he would so cavalierly breach his fiduciary duties to her and to the members of her community.
The amounts stolen and the period of time over which these crimes were committed were staggering.
Lila’s mother had actually been sending mail to Lila’s business office a few towns away, because she already suspected Lila’s mail was being tampered with. Lila thought her mother was over-reacting.
She never thought that her mail carrier was actually taking her mail! When she thought of all of the items and magazines (and who knows what else) that were never delivered, it literally made her sick.
Nevertheless, Lila had to take action. Immediately.
But what exactly should she actually do right now?
As the known victim of identity theft, Lila needed to limit, and if possible and necessary, reverse the damage inflicted upon her by Postman’s rampant theft of her mail and likely her identity. The rain continued to pour down and the thunder claps jolted Lila as she gathered her wits.
If you are in a situation similar to Lila’s, or if you have seen unknown charges on any of your accounts, or even if you lost your wallet (it may have been stolen), there is a pretty good chance that your identity has been compromised.
These are the steps I encouraged Lila—and potentially you—to take.
1. Call the Fraud Alert Department at one of the three nationwide credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian or TransUnion). Request a “Fraud Alert” on your account.
Be prepared to provide your own identifying information—it is their job to make sure you are not an identity thief yourself.
The Fraud Alert on your account will act as a mandate to potential lenders to take additional steps to confirm that you are you before they extend credit in your name.
The Fraud Alert provides a 90-day barrier and checkpoint system to protect you and your credit. The identity thief will not be able to open new accounts in your name. One call is all it takes, as the three bureaus report Fraud Alerts to each other. In those 90 days, if you seek credit, expect to receive a call and be required to verify your request.
2. Create a theft report using FTC.gov/complaint, a comprehensive site there to assist you in preparing a report laying out the specifics of your circumstance. Once on the site you will be prompted to identify which accounts may have been hacked (credit, phone/utility, taxes, loans, internet, benefits) and to provide further specifics to make a full record of the theft.
The site will generate a report for you, which you will then take to your local police department.
You must file an official police report. The police report is your proof of this crime and it will be necessary to successfully challenge charges that are not yours – with the reporting agencies and the underlying creditors.
3. After a few weeks, order your free credit report from each of the three bureaus. You will want to wait a bit before ordering the reports, because it does take some time for the information to appear on your report.
Once you receive your report, you must painstakingly review it line-by-line to ensure that all items reported are accurate.
This includes: your name, your social security number, your addresses, inquiries from companies you did not request, accounts you did not open and debts that you did not incur.
No one but you is ever going to know the accuracy of your credit history (and therefore your report). If you find errors, immediately report them to the credit reporting agency and the creditor making the claim.
4. Get a folder and start a written file of your communications regarding your specific circumstances.
Your file will include copies of your police report, all other documentation and correspondence, and a log of all your phone calls.
When you make those calls, have a new sheet for each call.
(a) who you spoke to (first and last name) and the company name,
(b) the date and time, and
(c) the substance of each conversation.
You will be amazed how valuable keeping all of this information – in one place – will be to eliminate erroneous records.
I have administered too many bankruptcy cases where this information did not exist (no police record/no record of affirmative action steps taken) and the only viable avenue the innocent victim had was to file a bankruptcy petition.
Don’t let that be you.
5. Contact your lenders, banks and other businesses requiring your personal information and start fresh. Close old accounts that are now vulnerable. Open new accounts, create new usernames, new pin codes and new passwords. Regain comfort and a semblance of security.
6. Over the following year, continue to monitor your credit reports periodically to ensure there are no new fraudulent events.
The time and effort Lila had to spend to make sure her credit was not ruined was significant, unjustified, and a grueling task for which there would be no reimbursement.
Postman’s criminal actions had a profound effect on Lila, both financially and emotionally. His actions changed the way she thinks and how she lives her life.
Although Postman was criminally prosecuted, Lila no longer feels confident in either sending or receiving mail by use of her home mailbox.
Nevertheless, Lila took the time, followed my advice, and made sure that the losses she suffered were minimal. Her swift action ensured that her credit and credit rating were insulated from tampering.
“If you don’t stand up for yourself, you’re letting the bully win!” Selena Gomez
“The best person to ‘face’ the problem is also the best person to ‘fix’ the problem – that is you!!!” Cornelius J., The Credit Repair Book: The Credit Repair Company’s “Secret Weapon”
I’m a debt settlement and bankruptcy attorney who negotiates resolutions between clients and their creditors. I am also a real estate attorney involved in both sides of purchasing and selling distressed real property. I am passionate about teaching people about money and helping individuals of all ages achieve financial independence and success in a "no…
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