Identity Theft and the Internet
You come home and find two mysterious UPS packages at your doorstep. Funny; they're addressed to you, but you didn't order anything. You open one of them to find a cell phone with the latest accessories. The enclosed invoice shows that it was shipped to you but billed to someone with your name at another address a few miles away. Same name? Same city? Stranger things can happen. There's a phone number, so your husband tries to call to let your namesake know that UPS delivered her packages to the wrong address. When you hear the woman on the line say, "Yes, this is [insert your full name here]," you get a sinking feeling in your stomach. Your husband quickly hangs up on her. Another review of the invoice reveals payment was made by MasterCard. You have a MasterCard but haven't used it in a while, so--what the hell--you call the toll-free customer service line. After being transferred here and there, answering this question and that one, it hits you: you're just another victim.
This is the way I discovered last year that I had become a victim of identity theft. Weeks and months later, I learned that, in addition to making fraudulent charges to my credit card, the criminals opened several cell phone accounts using my name, address, date of birth, and social security number. They even had the audacity to have two phones purchased illegally added to my existing, legitimate cell phone account. At times, I loathed opening my mailbox for fear of finding yet another invoice asking me to pay hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars for these lowlifes to buy and talk on cell phones. Should you ever find yourself in a similar, unfortunate situation, know that the Internet contains web sites that can help, whether or not their purpose is to promulgate information on identity theft. Words can barely describe my feelings throughout this ongoing experience, but I know my situation has been easier to deal with because of the resources available to me online.*
After talking to the fraud department of my credit card company that evening, I turned to the agency many go to for help: my local police department. An officer came to my house and took a police report, which I gave to various companies and agencies to clear my name. My local police department was clearly an ally, and I needed to trust that the police would help me. Several police departments in Contra Costa County maintain official web sites. Most offer detailed information about their services and communities; examples include the Pleasant Hill Police Department (http://www.pleasanthillpd.com/) and the El Cerrito Police Department (http://www.el-cerrito.org/police/). Others like the Orinda Police Services Department (http://www.ci.orinda.ca.us/police.htm) provide general statements about their departments and their missions. Although some web sites offer crime statistics for their local areas, the statistics presented tended to be violent crimes...