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Holiday Identity Theft: It Just Happened to Me

A column by Vincent Schilling about online identity theft and the steps people can take to protect themselves.

I didn’t think much of a phone message I received when checking my voicemails at my office last week. The other voice on the line said something to the extent that they just wanted to verify a recent purchase. It’s the holidays, so I put it into my mental to-do list and called back a day or so later.

That was my first mistake.

I have now joined the ranks of those who are victims of identity theft.

The 2011 Identity Fraud Survey Report, released by Javelin Strategy & Research reports that in 2010 the number of identity fraud victims has decreased by 28 percent which is three million fewer victims than 2009. Approximately 8.1 million adults in the United States were still victimized in 2010. I’ll be included in the 2011 statistics as of now. Hopefully I might help to keep you out of this loop.

Here’s what happened. After my phone call from an online shoe company, I later received an email from my bank telling me my account was frozen because of “uncharacteristic purchasing behavior.” Okay, a big red flag—so I started six hours and counting of phone calls to rectify my situation.

I called my bank and discovered there had been five purchases on my Schilling Media Inc. business account which included size 13 tennis shoes, cologne or perfume, a few hundred dollars in men’s sports clothes and a take-out dinner purchase. Some of the items were shipped to New York and the dinner was ordered in Toronto Canada. It was frustrating and a bit unnerving how quickly it all transpired.

Luckily, the purchases were made on my business debit account so shoes, clothing and perfume stood out like a sore thumb. If they had been made on my personal account—especially during the holidays—who knows how long the perpetrators would have had a party with my credit card.

So what did I do wrong? I did make some online purchases, yes—but when I began researching ways to prosecute—I called the local FBI office who suggested I call the Secret Service and then file a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center, which is a partnership between the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center.

When talking to the FBI agent, she told me that my perpetrator may not even have gotten my credit card online. In fact she told me she had shopped at a local mall in Virginia, and someone had taken her card info, forwarded it to another state where perpetrators had created a fake plastic card and purchased groceries—within one hour!

I figured if it happened to an FBI agent, I wasn’t doing too badly.

So, I have called my bank, my credit card has been cancelled and re-issued. As it turns out one of the orders was not shipped and stopped, but the thief still gets to enjoy some clothes, cologne and great meal. And because the rate of identity theft crime is so high, he or she may never be prosecuted.

However, with everything that has transpired, there is a great thing that happened as a result of this incidence of theft against me, I was suddenly inspired to write this article in hopes that ICTMN readers might further protect themselves and not fall prey to thieves after our credit cards.

I looked for some tips online and have added a few myself that I have learned from this experience. Happy Holidays—but just be cautious out there, a little bit of careful action on your part could save your identity.

My tips:

· In my bank, I have the online option to create a temporary credit card number in which I can control the amount of purchase as well as the expiration date. This is a great option as I can purchase the item and then delete the temporary card after the transaction is complete.

· I spoke to my father, Ray Schilling, who suggested the great idea of having a completely separate account just for online purchases; just keep the amount you need in the account so that folks can’t purchase high-price items.

· Check your accounts often. I was lucky that my bank recognized peculiar activity, but who knows better than ourselves just what we have purchased. If there is a questionable item, call your bank who will gladly freeze the account until you can straighten it out. A flase alarm is better than acting too late.

Here are a few Tips directly from the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3)

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For a more comprehensive list visit and click on “Holiday Shopping Tips.”

· Do not respond to unsolicited (spam) e-mail.

· Do not click on links contained within an unsolicited e-mail.

· Be cautious of e-mail claiming to contain pictures in attached files, as the files may contain viruses. Only open attachments from known senders. Always run a virus scan on attachment before opening.

· Avoid filling out forms contained in e-mail messages that ask for personal information.

· Always compare the link in the e-mail to the web address link you are directed to and determine if they match.

· Log on directly to the official Web site for the business identified in the e-mail, instead of "linking" to it from an unsolicited e-mail. If the e-mail appears to be from your bank, credit card issuer, or other company you deal with frequently, your statements or official correspondence from the business will provide the proper contact information.

· Contact the actual business that supposedly sent the e-mail to verify that the e-mail is genuine.

· If you are requested to act quickly or there is an emergency, it may be a scam. Fraudsters create a sense of urgency to get you to act impulsively.

· If you receive a request for personal information from a business or financial institution, always look up the main contact information for the requesting company on an independent source (phone book, trusted internet directory, legitimate billing statement, etc.) and use that contact information to verify the legitimacy of the request.

· Remember if it looks too good to be true, it probably is.

Fraudulent Classified Ads or Auction Sales

Internet criminals post classified ads or auctions for products they do not have. The item may have been purchased with someone else's stolen credit card number. Contact the merchant to verify the account used to pay for the item actually belongs to you.

Do not provide credit card numbers, bank account numbers, or other financial information directly to the seller.

Gift-Card Scam

The safest way to purchase gift cards is directly from the merchant or authorized retail merchant. If the card was obtained fraudulently, the merchant will deactivate the gift card number, and it will not be honored to make purchases.

Phishing and Social Networking

Be leery of e-mails or text messages you receive indicating a problem or question regarding your financial accounts. Any personal information you provide, such as account number and personal identification number (PIN), will be stolen.