Saturday, March 29, 2008

Life Goes On but Watch Your Back!

To the faithful reader(s) here...this is an unfortunately very TRUE story...read on and take care!

March 26, 2008

A story of fraud and theft

You don’t think it can or could or will happen to you, but it can and it could, and I hope it won’t. What follows is the bare-bones outline of my recent experience with credit card fraud and subsequent identity theft, or at least attempted identity theft. Fortunately little long-lasting harm was done but not without significant time, energy, and worry on my part, and follow up efforts on the part of banking and credit officials…to whom I am grateful for their patience in helping me unravel the story, as well as their comforting words as I reached the brink of panic, over and over again.

December 1 – 15, 2007: I spent a nice 2 weeks in the Cabo area of Baja, Mexico with # 2 daughter, C, followed by 3 weeks in the Yucatan, Mexico with # 3 daughter (also C), husband W, their shop and his family.

February 12 or so, 2008: I discovered (on line) a fraudulent charge on my main credit card. The name of the so called vendor was in Spanish, and I assumed that somewhere in the Cabo or Yucatan areas, someone had grabbed my number. I called the bank, the account was closed and credited, and a replacement card was arranged to be mailed to my new (changed since last fall) BC address.

February 20: an email came from fellow traveler C telling me that the 3 cards she had used in the Cabo area were hit with fraudulent charges. I checked another active card that I had with me in Mexico but had never used there, and it had been hit with the same vendor as my other one, so that was reported, closed, etc. While on the phone about this second card, I learned that other small charges had been made in the Florida area for car rentals.

March 3 2008: there had been no replacement card from the first bank by this date, so I called to find out the status. And here it got ugly: a replacement card had recently been used to attempt this account, and was being used again, even as I was on the phone with the bank fraud specialist! I can’t recall for sure now, but the card was either being attempted in Miami, FL, or in Bogota, Columbia, or both. But a woman had been on the phone with the bank for days repeatedly, speaking through a Spanish translator. As she did not have my US Social Security #, she was not successful in making charges. However, the account was successfully entered to the point where the address was changed to an address in Miami. At my repeated insistence that I knew NOTHING about a Florida address, the fraud specialist bumped my case up to the level of identity theft. The ID theft specialist then could/would not ascertain that I am the rightful owner of this account until I proved it in the presence of a bank manager, with the bank manager on the phone with the ID theft agencies. This had to be arranged for the following day. In the meantime, I discovered that all 3 of traveler C’s fraudulent charges were made under the same name as the major ones on my cards…so 5 charges by a “vendor” of the same name.

March 4, 2008: at the Credit Union bank, I presented the manager with the entire required ID, where she verified both her and my legitimacy with the ID theft agency by phone. At that time, US credit reporting agencies were informed not only about the fraud charges on the two accounts, but of the ID theft as well, and thus all access to my credit reporting, and all access to my credit was put under scrutiny. I was then given the option to go a step further and have an interview and credit report viewing by phone, with Identity Theft Assistance Corporation (ITAC), an agency that follows up on ID theft, and encourages the victims to offer their information and experience to law enforcement. Over the course of 3 phone conversations, this was finally completed last week.

March 3 – 24: I have now changed login names and passwords for ALL my bank and credit accounts will NEVER use unsecure wireless or internet cafĂ© for any financial transaction, and as soon as my Canadian credit reporting reaches an adequate level, I will begin closing the US accounts (that’s a whole other story!)

But there are still some mysteries…

1. How did my 2nd card get hit in Mexico when I hadn’t even taken it out of my wallet? Did I go on line to check various account statuses? Yes, I usually do when I’m traveling for a long enough time that I need to make payments. Did I do so from my laptop on secure wireless? Yes. How about unsecure wireless? Very likely. How about a public computer? Also very likely…but if so, I know exactly which computer that would have been, and it is where the unsecure wireless is as well…a hotel that C and I were able to use on the beach, across from our hotel in San Jose del Cabo. Before that turns into an accusation, I may have used unsecured wireless in other locations (San Jose del Cabo, Cabo San Lucas, Puerto Morelos, various airports) as I was still conducting an on-line college course (finishing one, starting the next one) in this entire 6 week period, but I cannot be sure if or where, I accessed any bank or credit account using unsecure wireless.

2. If the on-line checking I did there was the source of ingress into that 2nd account, could it also have been for my first one? Certainly, for the same reasons. How about C’s accounts? No, because while she used the cards while shopping, she was only away for 2 weeks and did not check balances or make on-line payments. And yet the same “vendor” showed up on all 5 of our accounts with about the same charge, $1200: ESTILO Y DEC EUGIN MELCHOR OCAMPO.

3. How did my first account’s replacement card get into someone else’s hands, whether Miami or Bogota? I asked my landlords here about the security of our (locked) mailbox. Short of theft by a mail delivery person, it’s secure. Could it have been stolen from the point of origin? Possibly, but that implies an “inside job” or mail theft from the bank, which could happen, but would be another level of reporting that I feel has to be left up to the bank to pursue. Lately we discovered that my new Canadian address, when taken down as the address to which the bank should send the replacement card, was done in error, and so it now seems likely that the card (along with subsequent letters from the bank looking for the fraud-affidavit of legitimacy) went wherever it went…and into the hands of a fraudulent user.

I didn’t make things easy for the banks or the credit reporting companies by the fact that I had moved from the US to Canada last year, that I had changed my BC address once, and that I had had to use C’s Seattle address in order to process the reporting because the agencies could not do so for non-US addresses. So between 2 Seattle addresses, and 2 BC addresses, I am still updating banks and credit reporting agencies.

This has all taken upwards of 10 hours of phone time, over the course of many days, and in total, a period of 2.5 months, but I believe now that the situation is at least stable. I have delivered this report to the Salmon Arm, BC RCMP, will do the same when next in the US.

So life goes on, but watch your backs folks!

2 comments:

F. "Satana" A. said...

Hi.
Sorry for asking here...
(and sorry for my english)
By any chance, have you ever played your harp ontop of Clifs of Moher, seling your cds right there ?

If the answer is yes, PLEASE contact me via email. I'm looking for a gift for a very special person...

Thanks

oceana vox said...

Yes I did that once! I was in Ireland for 5 weeks in September-early October, and was on the Cliffs hiding from the wind by the tower. Several people bought my cd, Full Hearts Empty Mind. I have a new cd out now, called Tethys. Go to my website: www.lindakhandro.com. thanks! Oh, couldn't write to your email for some reason, please include it.