Thursday, June 18, 2009

Identity Theft - A stolen wallet started the problems

Identity theft affects millions of people and costs America billions of dollars each year.

 Six years ago, I was working a morning shift at a restaurant. Before my shift started, I put my wallet in the top compartment of my backpack. The backpack was then placed near the break table, next to the back dining area. I never thought that one wallet would cause me so many detrimental problems.

After I finished a day shift, I searched for my wallet. The wallet was nowhere to be found. Could I have possibly left my wallet at home? What I found out later was that a customer had taken the wallet? I only discovered this after I received a dozen calls regarding several credit charges.

The credit card charges were just the start of the problem. What I learned later is that you should always report a stolen wallet immediately. Why should you do this? Any one person can use your identification and credit cards to rent vehicles, hotels, and to make deals with other entities. I reported the wallet stolen on the very next day.

Due to unlawful activity - one that authorities thought I was part of - a detective visited my place of residence. The detective shared with my landlord about the illegal activity. He asked whether I was the type of person that would vandalize and steal property in a Marriot's Hotel. 

In using my military I.D. card, the perpetrator posed as a pilot; he was able to build trust with people in result of the Iraq War. He recruited a crew of friends that wiped out the hotel room: the dressers, lamps, mattress, and everything else that wasn't attached to the ground was taken out and loaded into a van.

The detective suggested that I orchestrated the hotel heist. My landlord told him that I was an honest person and would never do anything illegal. While working a shift at the restaurant, the detective asked to speak to me regarding the hotel and a few other issues. 

During the meeting, the detective told me about the slew of crimes - hotel ordeal, a stolen trailer and hitch, counterfeit checks, and other issues. He showed me a copy of my identification and credit cards, ones that were used for the illegal activity.

A few nights later, I received multiple messages from other identity theft victims. I decided to call one of the victims – an older man - to set up a meeting. Once my college class let out for the night, I went directly home to meet the old man. The old man was obviously a fan of the San Francisco 49ers. He was wearing one of those vintage jackets from the early 80’s.

The old man and I talked about the main problem in hand. How was the perpetrator able to use my identification to steal the old man’s trailer hitch? This man – the perpetrator - posed as an Air Force pilot to build a relationship with each one of the victims. Indeed, the man was a con artist that was out to ruin my name. 

The old man mentioned that the wannabe pilot was a few inches taller than me. He managed to retain a hitch part that the perpetrator left behind. A few minutes later, the doorbell rang. The city police requested that I leave with them to meet a female victim, one that was ready to identify me as the man that ripped off her trailer. They showed me a copy of my two ID cards on a piece of white paper. 

The old man noted that I was not the man that was conning all of these people. He described the man and shared his experienced. I also showed the police a copy of the stolen wallet report. If I hadn’t called the old man and filed a report, I would be going down for these crimes.

After that moment, the slew of crimes continued on. The detective consulted me about counterfeit checks, stolen rental cars, and other illegal activity. He advised to obtain a credit report. Eventually, the criminal activity slowed down. 

A few weeks later, the detective called and noted that he arrested the perpetrator. Video surveillance cameras captured the criminal a few weeks back: the first day my wallet was stolen.

Later, I received a notice from the court. They invited me to watch the trial, the one that was going to sentence the con artist to 750 days in prison. I decided against attending the trial. Meeting an impersonator face-to-face was not wise due to the short jail sentence.

What I learned from this matter is the danger of personal information. Never take any chances. Immediately report any stolen possessions, especially wallets or purses. Make sure you notify the credit bureaus. Keep a log that records relevant times and events relating to the theft.

Lastly, consumers that have maxed out credit card accounts are still at risk for identity theft. Credit card companies still allow charges go through on maxed out accounts. In retrospect, this story demonstrates how a stolen wallet can cause severe legal issues.

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