What I Learned Last Year
For those who know me, you know that 2022 was a year of great change for our household. We moved forward with a lot of home improvements that had been put off for far too long. In a very concerted effort to get to net zero carbon emissions and to start saving money, we converted the old fuel burning radiator hot water heating system in our 1902 Victorian Farmhouse to heat pumps and added a ground mount solar system to help support it. We also completely replaced our roof, added a new heat pump hot water heater, added insulation to attic and basement and did a full, ground up kitchen renovation. To say the least, it was a very busy year for us and we had loan applications and financial information pretty much going out everywhere. We started everything in January 2022 and are finally in the home stretch – most things are now completed and fully functional.
In early July, I received a new bank card from a company I have held an account with for over 30 years. I didn’t think too much about it. I wasn’t going to be using it, so I didn’t activate it and it sat on my desk until I could look into it more. Then about 2 weeks later, I received a letter about “my account through USAA”. I never served in the military, but it showed my status as being in the Air Force, so something seemed wonky. I ended up calling USAA and found that someone had recently opened a bank account in my name and they just needed to confirm my address. Within the next month, I received similar notices from SoFi Money, Discover Bank and Chase. I cannot tell you how much time I spent on the phone with each institution and their identity theft and fraud departments. It was unending and upsetting. Someone (several people?) out there has my information, including my social security number.
I submitted reports to IdentityTheft.gov and to the Social Security Administration as well as documented the issues through our local County Sherriff’s Department with an official criminal police report. Other than that, there isn’t much you can do to find out who might be behind it (the financial institutions aren’t allowed to tell you any of the information about the online user who opened the accounts due to security – which is pretty funny).
The main action that we took was to freeze my information for both credit and bank accounts through the three primary credit reporting companies (for credit checks) and another company that specifically works on bank accounts (checking/savings/etc.). All my information is now locked so that if someone tries to open an account in my name, when the system runs a check on the name or SSN, it comes back as blocked or frozen and stops the process from there. I typically will then receive a notification that the information was blocked and that I need to confirm information or un-freeze my information in order to proceed. You can freeze and unfreeze as you need, so if you are applying for a loan, you would unfreeze for that application so the lender can get the information they need, and then freeze it again once that is completed.
So – my advice and guidance for everyone – regardless of whether you feel you are at risk – please protect yourself and your credit by placing a freeze on your information. There is no charge to do this as many times as you need, and it only takes a few minutes. This is the ounce of prevention that I wish I knew sooner and I want everyone to know that no matter how careful you are with passwords and spam emails (I am very careful), your information can get out there and people will use it. Protect yourself and your credit!
For Credit Freezes:
TransUnion: 1-888-909-8872 https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze
Equifax: 1-800-349-9960 https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/
Experian: 1-888-397-3742 https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
For Banking Freezes:
Chexsystems: 1-800-513-7125 https://www.chexsystems.com/security-freeze/place-freeze