I never thought I'd be writing about identity theft. It's an interesting topic, but I never thought I'd actually be the victim of it. I'm not naive. I'm careful. No worries, right?
I won't say that these thieves are smart, because I believe that being "smart" includes an understanding of right and wrong apparently lacking in the criminal mind. But they are certainly clever, and you need to know the kinds of things they do.
Careful analysis of what happened to me indicates that somehow the thieves got a copy of an old check of mine--one that had been written and cashed. The thieves had my name, address, bank account number, driver's license number, and signature. They didn't have a blank check of mine, but they didn't need it. Here's what happened.
They somehow obtained a blank check from an unknown person. I'm guessing that this person closed her bank account and threw away her old checks.
The thief used my personal information and bought or made a fake driver's license--a license with my name, my address, my North Carolina license number--but not my photo. Instead, the fake I.D. included a photo of the person who was using my identity.
Armed with a fake I.D., my bank account number, and a blank check, the thief wrote out a check to my name. Here's a copy of the check (with identifying information obscured):
The thief then walked into a Suntrust bank in Jacksonville, Florida and presented this check to be cashed. The friendly teller asked to see her I.D. She produced the fake license and the teller noted the information on the front of the check. Then the teller asked, "Do you have an account with us?"
This is an important question. Banks no longer cash checks for just anyone; a customer usually needs to have an account at the bank in order to cash a check. Tellers are required to note the customer's account number on the back of the check. This is to provide a guaranty for the funds being distributed. If the check being cashed were not to clear for any reason, the funds would then be taken from the customer's bank account, the number of which was carefully noted on the back of the check.
|This is part of the forgery of my signature from the back of the check. Spooky to see a forgery of your own signature.|
Imagine that Jane Doe wrote you a check for $100.00 which you want to cash. You take the check to your bank. Before the teller will give you $100 cash in exchange for Jane's check, he or she will ask for your account number. The teller will pull up your account information and make sure that funds are available in your account. If Jane Doe's check bounces for any reason, your bank will take the $100 from your account. This is, of course, very smart practice for the bank. If they're giving out cash, they need to be sure that there's a legitimate source of that cash.
You can imagine what happened in my case. The thief received $2380.00 in cash at the teller window. The check was bogus. The thief knew the check would not clear, and she knew that my bank would automatically take the cash from my account--the one noted on the back of the check by the teller. This shows that the thieves are clever. They understand the banking system well enough to know how it works. It's a tricky kind of theft.
The events of my story took a definite turn for the better when the thief attempted to steal more than once. She went to another Suntrust branch in Jacksonville and attempted to cash another check using the same procedure she'd just employed. But this time she encountered a teller with a lot of experience. Something about the thief made the teller suspicious--just suspicious enough that she asked the thief a security question (in this case, my mother's maiden name). The thief couldn't answer the security question, of course, and the teller calmly informed her that she couldn't cash the check. The thief quickly left the premises.
Then, God bless her, that teller immediately called me. When I answered the phone, she identified herself and then asked, "Are you in Jacksonville, Florida right now?" "No," I answered, mystified. "Have you been in Jacksonville in the past day?" she persisted. "No; I've never been to Jacksonville," I replied. From there she sprang into action. She told me what had happened; she called my local bank to get them involved in the case; she called Suntrust's Fraud Department; and she reviewed the security camera images to capture a photo of the thief.
Because of the quick thinking and conscientious action of that teller, we were able to move fairly quickly. All my bank accounts were immediately placed on security alerts, signalling tellers that they should ask questions before cashing any checks. We closed the bank account that had been breached. This was no small feat, because it was my primary checking account. I had to wait until everything had cleared my account before I could close it. Quite a few monthly bills were set up to be paid automatically from this account; all those had to be changed. You can imagine that all this took many hours of my time and quite a few hours of time on the part of several different Suntrust employees. But the result was that the police in Jacksonville, Florida apprehended a suspect. I signed an affidavit regarding the theft to assist the District Attorney there in pressing charges. And Suntrust replaced the funds that were stolen from my account.
Will it end there? I don't know. Believe me, I'm on the lookout for other ways that the thieves might have used my personal information. I've heard horror stories of a person's credit being ruined by thieves; I don't yet know if that will happen to me. I'm hoping that these thieves were simply using my information for short-term theft purposes, but only time will tell. Now that I've been documented as a victim of identity theft, though, I'll have recourse for recovery. My next step is to order a credit check to see what might be going on.
Here are some things I learned from this experience; I hope they'll help you.
Have you ever been the victim of theft? Or do you have any tips to share? I'd love to hear them!
- Bank with a reputable company. If you have any hesitation about the customer service you're receiving, switch banks. If possible, bank at the same branch regularly. (By the way, I have no affiliation with Suntrust Bank except as a customer. But I've been impressed with their customer service.)
- Keep close tabs on your accounts. If you spot any suspicious activity, question it immediately.
- Be careful with paper checks. Don't place mail containing checks in your curbside mailbox; drop it in a locked mailbox at the post office or an authorized station. Be sure that all checks you write clear your account in a timely manner. Keep a careful list of all checks you write (or use checks that create duplicates). If a check doesn't clear, follow up with the recipient.
- Shred all papers with any kind of identifying information. Your name and address are easy to find, but you should make it as difficult as possible for a thief to obtain other information about you, particularly account numbers. And destroy old checks and deposit slips, even if they represent accounts that are closed. No doubt the person whose check was used in this scam thought there was no need to shred old checks since the account was closed, but clever thieves found a use for them.
- Never share sensitive information such as account numbers with anyone unless you're absolutely certain about their identity. For instance, don't give an account number to someone who calls you. Request verifying information until you're satisfied that you're speaking with a legitimate representative. Or call the company's published phone number and follow the prompts to speak with an account representative.
- Be careful about where and how you enter account information. We're often on the go, and it can be tempting to pay bills via cell phone while out in public. Don't do it. Better to use your home phone and/or home computer when transmitting sensitive data.
- Never send sensitive information like account numbers via email.
- For online transactions, be sure that you enter sensitive information only on a secure site. Look for a web address that begins with https://, not just http://. That "s" is important; it stands for "secure."
- Be careful with account passwords. It's tempting to use the same, easy-to-remember password for all your accounts, but that's not a good idea. If one of your accounts should get hacked, you don't want the thief to have easy access to all your accounts.
- Don't complain about security measures. Believe me, you'll be grateful they're in place if you're ever the victim of theft.
I'm joining these wonderful parties: