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Spring 2003
Volume 39, No. 3
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PCMOnline Editor
Sarah Dolinar

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The Purloined Self

As one of the estimated 700,000 American consumers who fell prey to identity theft during 2001, Jennifer Perkins ’88 was a victim of what is becoming the most popular form of consumer fraud.

Her troubles started when an online retailer contacted her about a discrepancy in a credit card purchase. Not thinking much about it, Perkins canceled the credit card. Then, a month later, she and her husband found that a withdrawal had been made from their account at a branch several hundred miles from their home. The perpetrator had used a drivers’ license with Perkins’ name and license number.

She filed paperwork with the Department of Motor Vehicles and filed a report with her local police department. Then she got a letter from a collection agency claiming that she owed money on a credit card that she didn’t even have.

Eventually, by requesting her credit report, Perkins found that another woman was posing as her and had created a new line of credit to purchase cell phones, set up credit cards, and even take out an $82,000 business loan.

Today Perkins believes that an employee of a financial institution sold her information to the woman who then racked up debt in Perkins’ name.

Though Congress passed the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act in 1998, making identity theft and fraud a criminal offense, the law doesn’t help everyone. Perkins cautions others with a few tips and suggestions.

  • Don’t carry your Social Security card, passport, or extra credit cards that you don’t regularly use.
  • Shred bank and credit card statements as well as pre-approved credit offers. “Dumpster Divers” can steal your information right from your trash can.
  • Get copies of your credit reports once a year. The three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, Experian, TransUnion, can be found on the Web.
  • Keep the 800 numbers for your bank and credit card companies to report unusual activity, theft or loss immediately.
  • If you find yourself a victim of identity theft or fraud, ask that a “fraud alert” be placed on your credit file and that no new credit be granted without your approval.
  • File a report with your local police or the police where the identity theft took place.
  • Keep a record of your contacts, and start a file with copies of your credit reports, the police report, correspondence, and copies of disputed bills.

—Sarah Dolinar