This is not a post I wanted to write. But I had to pass along this information.
All year I'd been looking forward to June. After a very busy school year, we'd all be home and able to enjoy the lazy, hazy, crazy days of summer. Right?
Anyway, our land line phone just stopped working. Puzzled, I called the phone company. They checked our account and told me that service for our home phone number had been switched to another provider. Huh?? I knew that couldn't be right--I hadn't requested such a change, and neither had my husband. So the phone company told me they'd check into it and get back to me.
Several days passed with no results. I contacted the phone company again; this time they told me that they would issue us a temporary phone number so that our service could be reinstated and put in a request to get our old phone number back.
More time passed. Our home phone began working again with a temporary phone number attached. But we wanted our old number back. It had been our phone number since 2001, and it was attached to records of every sort.
Finally I called our phone company again, determined to persist until I got to the bottom of the situation. This time I got a customer service representative who took me seriously when I told her that I had not requested a change of service. She asked me to hold while she did some research. While I was on hold, she called our old home phone number. And a woman answered the phone.
"May I speak to Richella?" the phone company rep asked. The woman replied, "This is Richella."
Thinking quickly, the phone company representative said, "I'm sorry; I thought you were having trouble with this line." The woman answered, "Oh, no, it's working fine. I switched this number to my cell phone."
The phone company rep hung up that call, then came back to the line on which I was holding the whole time. Whoever answered that call and claimed to be Richella, it wasn't me. Someone had taken our phone number and was now using it and claiming to be me.
Things then started happening quickly. The helpful phone company representative provided me the name of the wireless company to which my old number had been transferred. I called that company and was told that all the proper procedures had been followed for the transfer of service. When I insisted that I had not authorized the transfer, they simply repeated that it had all been done according to procedure.
Can you believe that? Someone had stolen our phone number. Did you know it was possible for your phone number to be stolen? I sure didn't!
My next call was to the police.
A very nice officer drove his squad car to my house (I'm sure the neighbors loved that). He took my report and opened an identity theft case. At that point, the only thing that had been stolen was my phone number, and we had no idea what use a thief might make of it. The officer suggested that I contact my financial institutions and that I monitor all my accounts closely and to let the police know of any suspicious activity.
I began the arduous process of calling our financial institutions and having security alerts placed on all our accounts. I had been at it for about two hours when my husband's cell phone rang. The caller was a teller from a Suntrust Bank in Florida. She asked my husband a couple of questions to verify his identity, then she informed him that a woman at her teller window was trying to cash a check on one of our accounts in the amount of $5,000.00.
Of course, we had not written a check for $5,000.00. Turns out that thieves had somehow gained access to one of our bank account numbers. They had stolen our home phone number, knowing that our bank would call our home phone number to verify a check. One of the thieves took a counterfeit check to the bank and tried to cash it. The teller did in fact call the home phone number on record to verify the check. A second thief answered that call, identified herself as me, and said that yes, the check was valid.
By the grace of God, the security alert on our account caused the teller to double-check the signature on that check against the one on file. When the signatures didn't appear to match, she called the next phone number on file, which was my husband's cell phone.
While my husband was on the phone with the teller, the bank manager notified the police, who came and took the thief into custody.
Imagine me, listening to my husband's side of the conversation. Just everyday statements like "So the police are there now?"
"And they've placed handcuffs on the woman. Okay."
I felt as though I were in a Reader's Digest "Drama in Real Life" story.
So the saga continues. I'm still trying to untangle the mess. Police here in Durham and in Florida are working on the case. Bank officials have been working with me to make sure our accounts are safe. I'm slowly but surely getting all our records changed to the new phone number. And we're wondering what other information the thieves might have stolen.
Here's what you need to know. Unless a special order is in place, your phone service can be "ported out" to another service provider very easily. This is quite handy if you want to change phone service providers; all you have to do is provide your name, phone number, address, and the answer to a simple security question such as your birth date, and go through a brief "third party verification" process. Unfortunately, a thief can provide all that information and have your phone service "ported out" to another provider as well. Turns out that these thieves are quite willing to go through all the proper channels to steal your information, and the protocol in place doesn't account for the fact that the person requesting the change in service might be a liar.
Whatever phone number you use for account identification (land line or cell phone), you should protect that number by calling your phone company and having an order put in place that will prevent your phone service from being ported out to another provider without your express authorization. With my phone company, this is called a "Freeze Order" or a "Do Not Port" order. With this order in place, your phone company will not allow service for your number to be transferred to another provider unless they call you to verify that transaction.
I won't say that identity thieves are smart, for if they were smart they'd have some moral knowledge. But they are clever. And patient. And bold. And they know how things work. I refuse to live my life in fear of them, but I've learned the hard way to be vigilant. I urge you to do the same. Call your phone service provider and put in an order to protect your number!
**For some other tips about protecting yourself from identity theft and bank fraud, click here.**
Have you ever been the victim of identity theft? Or do you have any tips for protecting yourself? Please share!
This lesson was a hard one!