Coffee Chats with Stan
Sipping a Cappuccino and taking notes about a good performing stock, I looked up at the sound of the door opening and closing and smiled at the sight of my friend Jay, a male real estate agent, one of the first friends in my circle to have an espresso maker at home back in the eighties. Of course the rage in Jay’s place now is martinis, martini glasses and fancy smancy olives. About those martinis…last time over at his place he served me a lemongrass and ginger one and next came the chocolate one. Now those were enjoyable for novelty sake, but like I told Jay, I like my martini’s straight up and stirred, no fancy flavored Vodka for me. He laughed and called me “James Bond.”
I teased, “No it’s 007.”
Seeing Jay walk in wearing an all black shirt with silver martini glass style buttons I smiled, same old Jay. The Armani jeans also in black, said it all. I chuckled, “Who died?”. In classic Jay style he took one look at my emblem-less gray beauty and the beast shirts for couples font and Costco purchased Kirkland jeans and answered, “Casual doesn’t have to be boring and the me-to-ism look of yours, Stan has got to go. Costco brand jeans, you can do better, what happened to your classic 501’s?”
“They’re in the laundry bin.”
“Well, that’s better than saying, you’re dog ate them.”
Jay ordered a double espresso couple bags of espresso beans and took out a wad of cash. I couldn’t help but notice how empty the slots of the wallet looked; the slots normally were maxed out with plastic.
Prying I said, “Where’s the plastic? You’re like the king of it.”
Jay said, “I’m giving it a rest.”
“You? I don’t believe it. Confess up, you’re budgetting. I mean finally budgetting. So you got sick of spending beyond your limit?”
“No. ID theft, someone nabbed me and tried to be me, but what lousy taste, man. They ranked up $10,000 at Kmart in Phoenix, $5000 on my credit card there too and a vacation at Holiday Inn in Tucson. Now if it was a quick trip to Rio or Paris or the Armani store, maybe. Seriously, no joking man, I got hit and I’m in real cleanup mode now.”
“You’re not alone Jay. I read in the New York Times how more than 27 million Americans have been victims of identity theft in the last five years. This is serious. What are doing to get out of this mess?”
I got an attorney who’s handling things on the legal side of things proving I never lived in Arizona and it’s not me and that’s the scary thing they got a dummy address on me at some residential address in Phoenix and my social security number, that’s what the guy used to get the cell phone and rank up a huge bill. Hiring a credit repair attorney to fix your credit report and deleting judgments from your credit file is a step in the right direction. There are some steps I’m doing too. No more using the credit cards frivolously, it’s not happening. I’m using cash as much as I can and leaving the credit cards at home in a safe, unless it’s absolutely necessary I won’t touch them. I got a P.O. Box too, so no more residential mail. Did you know that’s how they think my ID was nabbed? Imagine someone just cruising through my mail on a field trip. Yuck! What a violation. I’ve been having trouble sleeping over this too. It’s not just the money, a part of me was stolen, and that’s what gets me. How could someone consciously go around pretending to be me?”
“Jay, that’s just it, they don’t have a conscious.”
“Yean, I guess you’re right.”
“Jay, what are some of these steps you’re taking to protect yourself? My niece just got her first apartment, the post college job and all. I’d love to give her some sage Uncle sounding advice and keep her out of getting in a jam.”
“Of course Stan. Here are some of things I’m doing to protect my financial records.”
Instead of storing my credit cards in the wallet, I keep them in the safe at home.
Signature on the back of the card is a must – This is something I never did. I figured I’d sign the charge slips and that’d be good enough. Wrong! Having my signature on the back of the card is further proof it’s me ranking up some charge.
A credit card is not a form of identification. While this may sound obvious, I flashed the plastic around like it was my driver’s license. Big mistake.
Don’t give credit card to anyone. I made this mistake too. I think you used my credit card a few times when I was out of party supplies and you ran to the store for a quick trip. Now, I just hand out cash if I’m in an entertaining pinch.
When you are expecting a new or replacement card- keep a sharp eye on the mail.
Carbon copies – Oh those are the worst. I bet that’s how the guy nabbed me. So often I wouldn’t pay attention to what happened to those. Now I destroy the carbon whenever I get one.
When the charge is range – trible check to make sure the credit card is handed back and make sure it’s yours.
Report all lost or stolen cards immediately. I was lax about this. One night I went out to dinner and realized my credit card didn’t come back when I got home. Instead of calling the credit card company right away yand reported it missing, I went to bed. Big mistake.
PIN numbers – Don’t carry them in your wallet or written on the back of your card. And about the naming of these – don’t choose some obvious acronym with your name backwards. Pick something no one else will know, but which you will always be able to remember.
Important account numbers – Keep a list of these in a safe place along with all the customer service phone numbers and addresses too. When I saw the identity theft on my report it took me a while to find all the numbers I needed. Don’t wait to be in a panic to have this kind of information readily available.
ATM, Gas stations – Never use the cell phone while you’re making these transactions, like I used to do. You could end up leaving a valuable receipt with your private account information left in the open for all eyes to see. Pick up the receipts right away.
Use a shredder – I used to just toss old credit card statements and other documents with my financial information in the trash thinking no one is going to go through the trash. Wrong assumption. Now I shred all documents, which I don’t need to save.
Guard your personal information. Don’t reveal your social security or your residential address unless it is absolutely necessary.
Credit bureau reports – Review them thoroughly instead of just filing them away. This is so important. Looking at these reports is how I found out I was a victim of identity threat.
“Jay, thanks I’ll tell my niece these tips and get to work doing these things myself. Now what happens if you notice an error on your credit report?”
“Stan, these things happen more often than you think. But if you save your receipts and credit slips in a safe place and compare them against your monthly statements you’ll be able to easily dispute the error with proof. When you see these errors write to your credit card company right away. The letter needs to list all the items you disagree with and the reasons you disagree. Request the listed items be investigated and state firmly “these inaccuracies are injurious to my credit rating”.
“Jay, I bet you’re reviewing your credit file all the time now.”
“Of course, I’m become a great record keeper in the process. I had too. I have a file for each credit bureau now. They’re not all jammed into one folder like I used to do. In each file I have copies of all the letters I’ve sent to the particular credit bureau. I also make a note whether the letter was mailed or faxed and keep all postal deliveries and fax reports for proof of delivery. Plus, all telephone conversations including the dates and names of people I talked to, and items we discussed are noted in the file folder.
I’ve also had to ask the credit-bureaus to reinvestigate things too. Having all my records handy makes it easy to explain what I need them to do and why. The re-investigation stuff is tricky. I’ve literally had to stare at an old report against a new credit report comparing item after item before I noticed a discrepancy. The items I’ve disputed should not appear on the new report and if they do there should be some notation. These notations might say something like “no response”. This means the issue is still unresolved.
I’ve make a list of all disputed items, still unresolved and written additional letters to the credit bureau asking for reinvestigation. By this point I ask the credit bureau for information on the person who submitted the inaccurate information i.e. name, addresses, and phone numbers so I can follow-up on the inaccuracies myself. I’ve saved a copy of this letter in my file in case I need to forward a copy to someone else.”
“Jay, what frustrates you the most about dealing with the credit bureaus?”
“Time. It takes them sometimes as long as four weeks to respond to my dispute letters. I understand it takes them a while to verify the disputed information but still if feels like it should move quicker. But the credit bureau representatives tell me they get frustrated too and that some subscribers do not respond to their requests. Sometimes these whys are all about time and lack of resources, but still when a smudge on your credit history like with my ID theft is hanging over your head it’s infuriating that the process gets bogged down and moves sometimes slower than molasses dripping onto pancakes.”
“Jay, is there any other red flag you jump at on your credit report that might be a sign of trouble.”
“Unauthorized credit inquiries. If someone’s checking up on me, I want to know why. This used to infuriate me. Now I have a fraud alert on my credit report file, which I had to request in writing, so this stuff doesn’t happen. The way it works is all three major credit reporting agencies attach a fraud alert on my credit file. This is a very good thing. Now when someone else or even when I attempt to open a credit account the lender contacts me by phone to verify that I do in fact want to open up a new account. If they can’t reach me the account isn’t opened.”
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write by Veronica