A true story of identity theft

This was originally published on Monday, May 2 ,2016 in the Pacific Daily News.  Click here to subscribe to the PDN.

Identity theft is something very real even to residents of Guam. I recently discovered that a person very close to me is a victim of identity theft.  I thought this real life situation could assist other people if they discover they are a victim.  We sat down and discussed the experience.  The following is what we talked about.

I was most curious about the first red flag that alarmed him to possible identity theft.  He was completely unaware of the identity theft.  One day his wife pointed out that their Social Security income had been reduced.  They called the Social Security Administration  and were informed that there was a levy on their Social Security income and that it was being garnished due to delinquent payment of taxes.  The Social Security agent told him to call the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

He called the IRS and informed the IRS of what had occurred.  The agent asked for his full name, Social Security Number, and mailing address for verification.  The agent told him that the mailing address he provided did not match the address that was on record.  Upon further investigation the IRS agent informed him that his W2 from his employer was not included in his 2012 tax forms.  The agent asked him if he had his 2012 tax forms to verify the amount of the missing W2.  The amount reported on his W2 and the amount reported to the IRS was the same amount.  The agent then asked where his 2012 tax forms were filed.  My friend replied that he and his wife had been filing their taxes here on Guam for thirty years. The agent then asked how long they lived in Guam, how long they lived at their current address, and if they ever worked for a company based in Texas.  He answered he has been a resident of Guam for many years and that he and his wife never worked for a company in Texas.  The IRS agent then told him that he was a victim of identity theft and someone in the United Sates filled a tax return using his name and Social Security number.  The IRS agent gave him instructions on how to go about reporting his identity theft.

His first reaction was shock. He wondered how could this happen to him. He thought that if this could happen to his Social Security information what else was compromised?  He became worried about his savings and checking accounts and credit cards.

According to the Federal Trade Commission’s, FTC, identity theft website, https://www.identitytheft.gov , the first thing you do right away is call the companies or agencies where you know the fraud occurred.  Next, place a fraud alert and get your credit reports.  Then report your theft to the FTC.  Lastly, file a report with your local police department.  Depending on the type of identity theft of which you are a victim  will determine your next steps.  Visit the website for complete and compressive checklists on steps to take to report and recover from identity theft.

My friend says it is not easy and he has realized that working with the IRS is a major challenge.  It has taken him hours on the phone talking to several different agents and numerous phone calls.  He has filed several forms with the IRS to lift the levy on his Social Security income.  He was told that it could take up to 180 days to resolve the issue, but it could take longer to receive the reimbursement.  I can’t imagine if this were to happen to a person who solely relies on Social Security as the source of their income. This would be devastating.

My friend’s advice is that you should ensure that your personal information such as your bank accounts and credit cards be safeguarded. Set up notifications on your credit card if a transaction over a certain amount is made.  Check your credit scores regularly and consider enrolling in an identity theft protection system.  Just remember, even if you do safeguard your personal information, identity thieves have many different ways of stealing your identity. Be diligent with your bank accounts and personal information and monitor everything closely.

My friend may never find how or who stole his identity or if criminal charges will ever be filed.  He does know that it is a long and tedious process to fix and that identity theft impacts you in many ways.  Stay on top of your financial transactions and make it a habit to keep your personal information safe.  I am truly sorry for what has happened to my friend and I appreciate that he shared this information with me and allowed me to share it with my readers.

Michael Camacho is president and chief executive officer of Personal Finance Center. He has more than 20 years of experience in retail banking and at financial institutions in Guam and Hawaii. If there is a topic you’d like Michael to cover, please email him at moneymattersguam@yahoo.com and read past columns at the Money Matters blog at http://www.moneymattersguam.wordpress.com.

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