Dear Mr. Berko: My wallet was stolen a year ago, and most folks have no idea what a job it has been to get my life back in order.
The credit agencies have me listed as a bum, even though I pay all my real bills, and I still get calls from vendors who accepted my stolen cards. I now have four driving permits in four different states, and I have a speeding ticket in New Jersey in my name, although I've never even been there.
My Social Security number was hijacked to open checking accounts at two banks. Two cellphone accounts were opened in my name, as were two electric utility accounts. The banks, the utilities, the vendors, etc., do not believe me and view my explanation as a convenient ruse.
So far, this terrible fever dream has caused me to spend more than $4,200 in legal fees. Not a week goes by that I don't get a phone call from someone who insists that I owe money. Is there anything you can recommend that I do to stop this continuing problem from consuming me? My wife thinks we should get a divorce to clear this problem from our lives.
DD, Port Charlotte, Fla.
So I spoke with my daughter, Hilary, who has been practicing law for 18 years, and she advised you to get a new attorney, pronto. Then ask your insurance agent if the legal costs you already incurred and those to be spent are covered under a home insurance policy. Next, ask your accountant if the legal costs not covered by your homeowner's policy are deductible from your gross income.
This is an “Alice in Wonderland” nightmare, and your entire world is upside down in a few weeks. Hilary said that bad things can easily happen to good people who fail to take six simple, precautionary measures she lists below. But she also recommends that you stay married because it's a lot less expensive than a divorce.
However, she also advises that perhaps your spouse really wants a divorce and that this incident is a door-opener to a subject that she finds difficult to discuss under normal circumstances. And while the precautions below can't help you now, they can prevent enormous future angst and heartache in others who may have their IDs stolen.
2. Put your work phone number on your checks, not your home phone, and if you have a P.O. Box, use that address rather than your home address on your personal checks.
3. If your credit card is stolen, it should be canceled immediately. But the trick is to have your credit card number and the toll-free number of the credit card issuer in an easy-to-find place.
4. As soon as you discover your credit card has been stolen, file a police report immediately in the jurisdiction where your card was stolen. This tells the credit card issuer that you are diligent and that this is a step toward investigation.
5. Never put your Social Security number on a check.
6. Call the three national credit reporting agencies and the Social Security fraud line immediately. This tells every company checking your credit that this personal data was stolen and that they must contact you by phone to authorize a new credit application. The important phone numbers are: Experian, (888) 397-3742; TransUnion, (800) 680-7289; and Equifax Credit Monitoring, (800) 525-6285. The Social Security Administration's fraud line is (800) 269-0271.
Please address your financial questions to Malcolm Berko, P.O. Box 8303, Largo, FL 33775, or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.