Photo Credit: Wake Forest Police Department and Target Stores, Wake Forest, NC

I am a victim of identity theft. You can say that I have become an expert in how to salvage the fallout once the theft has been discovered. My name and Social Security Number was stolen in 2016 and it has literally taken months to lock down everything. Most likely, my information was compromised through a data breach. As a victim, my story comes to you first hand. I have even assisted the police in the investigation of my own theft. The picture posted above is an actual surveillance picture of the suspect that attempted to obtain a credit card in my name at Target in Wake Forest, North Carolina.

Identity theft is a growing epidemic in the United States. Identity theft involves anyone who steals your personal information from your name and Social Security Number to your credit card numbers. This is a faceless crime but has serious ramifications against the victim. An identity thief can attempt to steal your credit, money, Social Security benefits, Medicare benefits, IRS Tax Refunds, obtain a drivers license in your name, and the list goes on. These thieves can literally destroy your life and they have no conscience in what they are doing.

Legislation needs to be placed in force to make it a felony to steal another’s identity regardless of the amount of money involved. Thieves should receive stiff jail sentences when they commit these crimes.

Not only are these thieves local, but also international identity thieves have set up call centers overseas to scam people out of their money. Many times, these overseas call centers call on a spoofed telephone number. Calling on a spoofed number means that they call a legitimate telephone number and then they capture that number. When they make outbound calls, they disguise their own number with the legitimate number, making the person called believe that it was from a local cell phone or business. Many of these calls are coming from Russia, China, Nigeria, Costa Rico, and other Caribbean countries.

Last year, a Hispanic male attempted to obtain a credit card in my name at Target in Wake Forest, NC. I am fortunate because I had credit monitoring with my bank. The fraud was detected and then I was notified. Then came the daunting task of filing all the reports as well as contacting the Virginia Attorney General’s Office, The Federal Trade Commission, The Internal Revenue Service, The Social Security Administration, all of the credit bureaus, my local police department, and the Wake Forest Police Department.

My recommendation is that when you discover that you are a victim of identity theft, call the police department first and file a report. Often times, these departments are inundated with these types of crimes and many times they may take an informational report. I have even heard where some officers will not even take a report. If this occurs, you must politely insist and ask for a supervisor. A police report must be taken if the crime occurred in Virginia or if you are a resident of Virginia. In my particular case, since I live in Virginia and the initial crime occurred in North Carolina, I had to report the crime to an officer in Wake Forest, NC. I then filed a report with my local police department for informational purposes. This, in turn, established the fact that a crime had occurred against me. Once I filed these reports, I contacted the Virginia Attorney General’s Office with the appropriate paperwork and obtained an Identity Theft Passport, which means that I now have an extra layer of protection indicating that I am a victim of identity theft and fraud.

The next step was to file an Identity Theft report to the Federal Trade Commission, which in turns notifies the IRS, Social Security Administration, and Medicare. The next step is to notify the Credit Bureaus. Once one letter is sent to any bureau along with copies of your police reports and credit reports, the receiving bureau will notify the remaining two bureaus of your identity theft. You may request a lock be placed on your credit. If anyone attempts to obtain credit in your name, the creditor is required to call you to verify. If they do not and the creditor is defrauded, the creditor has no recourse against you according to the credit bureaus.

While all of these procedures are good at resolving the destruction the thieves have caused against you, please understand that you will need to be your own advocate. The crime is so frequent; you will need to insist on police reports. You will be the one making the contacts to get your identity put back into place. You may have identity theft protection in your homeowners’ insurance policy; make sure that you read the policy. Your coverage may only reimburse, but you are the one who must do all the work.

There is another type of identity theft known as credit card theft or fraud. Most recently, someone got a hold of my VISA Card number, expiration date, and three-digit code on the back. They went into a Food Lion and attempted to purchase items with my card number. The sale did not go through because the suspect did not have any identification. Once this transaction occurred, my card company contacted me and wanted to know if I was in Food Lion in another city. I was not. They immediately closed the card and reissued it. We have a picture of the suspect. I rarely use this card, so we can narrow it down to a few places that I used it in the last month. The police believe that the thief was someone who works at a store in which I used my card. They apparently skimmed my card and then made a card with my name, card number, expiration date, and three digit-code. These thieves are good at stealing so trust no one with your information.

Here is my advice as to how you can protect yourself from identity theft. The first is to never carry your Social Security Card with you. If you lost your wallet or purse, someone has your Social Security Number. Second, if visiting a doctor’s office, at check-in, they may ask for your Social Security Number. The Attorney General’s Office in Virginia tells every victim to NEVER disclose his or her Social Security Number to a doctor’s office or any other office. If they insist, ask to speak to a manager and advise them that they have your insurance and drivers license. They do not need your Social Security Number. Third, when paying for a meal at a restaurant, follow the server to the register. Don’t be so trusting of strangers with your financial information. Fourth, NEVER use your debit cards in any stores, restaurants, gas pumps, or merchant; especially if they are walking away with your card. You do not know if they are taking a picture of your card or skimming it to steal your money. Once your money is stolen right out of your bank account, it may take days or even weeks to have it placed back in from your fraud claim. This will tie up your hard earned money. The fifth and final thought is to not use a debit card EVER online. Use a credit card. You will have the protection of VISA or Mastercard if you do. It’s easier to replace a credit card than to replace stolen money from your checking account.

If the police are fortunate enough to catch the identity thief, be prepared to prosecute them. Be willing to press charges. These people need to be brought to justice and be punished for stealing. Their theft can destroy the lives of hard-working Americans who are just trying to make it from payday to payday.

Joseph T. Lee, © October 29, 2017, The Lantern & Shield Times LLC

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Joseph Lee is an entrepreneur who owns a “Christ Centered” business as well as he is involved in Marketplace Evangelism & Discipleship. He most recently graduated from Liberty University Rawlings School of Divinity with a Masters in Christian Ministry. His focus was Pastoral Ministries. He will continue to work as a co-vocational pastor/businessman in the corporate world. In previous professions, Joseph was in law enforcement and was almost killed in the line of duty. It was then that he realized that God had spared his life and he was being called into the ministry. Joseph has also been involved in a music ministry and co-produced his solo album called “Shield of Faith” which is offered on iTunes. He also has a diverse background in acting and has appeared in a major motion picture as well as on several television shows on the Discovery Channel. God has changed his life in a way that he is on fire for Christ and shares the Gospel with all who are lost without hope. It is only through his faith in God and Christ that he is pursuing co-vocational ministry in the marketplace. Joseph is the Managing Partner, an Editor, and a Contributor for The Lantern & Shield Times for Faith and other news stories.

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