Identity theft a bitter pill for reporter
Publish Date: 10/8/2006
Identity theft a bitter pill for T-C reporter
By Amanda Arthur
The Daily Times-Call
LONGMONT — “I’m sorry. Do you have another card? This one’s been declined.”
My eyes widened. My cheeks grew hot. My whole body felt covered in pins and needles.
“I just got paid yesterday!” I stammered to the waitress at the Denver Thai restaurant where I dined Sept. 30, telling her to try running my card again.
She ran the card five times. It was rejected five times. My friend covered my bill for me.
As we walked back to his house, my mind raced.
“Maybe the bank has a glitch,” I thought. “Maybe my card wouldn’t scan properly.”
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But on Monday morning, a bank teller confirmed someone had used my debit card number without my permission.
“So you didn’t spend $350 at a shoe store?” she asked.
“No!” I shouted. “That’s worth more than all of my shoes put together!”
I surrendered my debit card and left penniless while bank workers sorted out the charges made to my account over the weekend.
I spent the rest of the day in front of a computer, watching as the thief’s charges hit my account, eventually leaving it $175 overdrawn.
As a crime reporter, I had written dozens of stories about identity theft and credit card fraud. I knew what to do.
I called credit reporting agencies and told them about my stolen account number to protect my credit rating.
I called the police.
Then I got antsy.
I started investigating the businesses where my money was spent. I soon found out it was going to be harder than making some phone calls and dressing down some careless store managers.
The four businesses — Shoe Depot, Tina Fashion, Frank Collection and Photo Creation — where money from my account was spent are in Fontana, Calif., according to my bank statement.
So I called the Fontana Police Department. I called the city’s chamber of commerce. I went on the Better Business Bureau Web site. But no one had ever heard of the stores, and the police couldn’t find an address for them.
I even left messages for people whose names are connected to two of the “businesses,” which I found on a public information Web site. No one called back.
Luckily, my bank sorted out the mess and had money back in my account by 2:30 p.m.
Days later, no one can tell me how my account was raided. I don’t know how someone got my debit card number. The police suspect someone wrote it down when I bought something at a store. Or maybe I accidentally threw away a receipt with my debit card number on it.
It’s pretty unnerving. I wonder what other information the thief took, along with the $671 from my account.
My situation isn’t unique.
On a daily basis, residents call the police to report identity theft. Investigators are often left with little information to go on.
“It’s killing us as an agency and as a community,” Longmont Police Sgt. Jeff Satur said of identity theft.
There are many ways a thief can steal your identity, even if you think you’re being careful.
I thought I was careful. I don’t shop online. I keep receipts or shred them before throwing them away. I destroy documents containing sensitive information.
It still happened to me.
Police advise residents to be wary of where they spend their money, and keep an eye on their credit cards when using them at businesses.
But there’s no fail-safe method to prevent identity theft, investigators say.
“It can happen to anybody, even somebody who thinks they are the most careful person,” said Cindy Taylor, head of the consumer affairs division of the Boulder County District Attorney’s Office.
It’s rare that people ever learn how thieves got access to their money, she said.
Maybe I’ll never know. But that’s a hard pill for a reporter to swallow.
Amanda Arthur can be reached at 303-684-5215, or by e-mail at email@example.com.
Check http://www.MyID.ws for more data on how to prevent, protect, and restore.