Identity theft makes for a stocking stuffer worse than coal. And with so many consumers pulling out their credit cards this holiday season, it's important they be aware of some of the dangers they face -- and not just the endless lines at stores. Check out these tips from identity theft protection company LifeLock to keep your credit safe.
Identity theft happens when you least expect it -- and it's often committed by the people you least suspect. The thief could be someone you trusted implicitly, such as your ex-girlfriend, or someone who has no qualms about living the high life on your tab.
More than 11 million U.S. adults became ID theft victims in 2009, according to a survey by Javelin Strategy & Research. Victims are fighting back, though, by filing police reports and helping to get these criminals arrested, according to the survey.
These true tales of identity theft attest to the frustration and heartache this type of crime can cause, as well as how these victims worked to restore their good names and credit.
ID theft victim: Bogdan Vovk
How he discovered the theft: He got a card from a jewelry store thanking him for his purchase of a Rolex watch and a diamond ring, neither of which he'd bought.
The crime: The thief posed as Vovk and went on a spending spree. He even rented an apartment and filled it with rented furniture and electronics, which he later stole. In all, he charged up more than $30,000.
The aftermath: Vovk called retailers and got the phone number the thief had provided when applying for credit. Vovk says he called and identified himself: "This is the real Bogdan Vovk." The thief replied, "No, you're not. I am," and hung up, Vovk says. Vovk then exchanged text messages with the thief, who claimed he bought Vovk's identity on the black market.
Outcome: Police arrested the thief, who pleaded guilty to identity theft and was sentenced to five years in prison. Vovk spent about 160 hours on the phone with creditors, amassed a file 8 inches thick and got every black mark erased from his credit, except for about $4,000 the thief charged at a furniture rental store. His credit score -- which he says used to be 780 -- has dropped to the 500s.
Lesson learned: If you're an identity theft victim, be proactive, get as much information as possible and turn it over to authorities. "I didn't want somebody else using what I've worked so hard to build -- it's my identity, my credit report," Vovk says. "I didn't want somebody else living my life. I wanted to put an end to it right away."
ID theft victim: Don Redinius
How he discovered the theft: After a break-up, he moved, filed a change of address form at the post office and began receiving credit card statements his ex had been intercepting when they lived together.
What the thief did: She used his Bank of America and Citi credit cards to pay for spa facials, massages and even a Caribbean cruise -- racking up more than $68,000 in debt. She also intercepted a blank check from a financial services company, opened the line of credit in Redinius' name, forged his signature and sent the $6,000 to her family in Greece.
The aftermath: Redinius filed several police reports, alerted the Federal Trade Commission and wrote a letter to the Arizona attorney general. Redinius estimates that he has spent at least 300 hours on the phone with creditors. He has resolved two of the accounts and is still working on the third.
Outcome: After several years, the thief has not been prosecuted. "It's a white-collar crime, not very exciting," to police, Redinius says. "They don't fly helicopters over the house where the ID theft occurred or go after the thief in a high-speed chase -- yet it's a very significant problem." Because financial problems can precede identity theft, as was the case with his ex, Redinius wrote a personal finance book, "The New Era of Financial Success."
Lesson learned: "Don't be so trusting of people, especially as it relates to financial things," Redinius says. "My financial information used to be more open around people I thought I could trust. In fact, I think the way she got my credit card number for Citibank was, I remember throwing that stuff in a dresser drawer. Now I'm much more careful."
ID theft victim: Jessica Guberman
How she discovered the theft: She was getting ready to go on a camping trip in Vermont with her husband when an investigator from her local police department knocked on her door and asked to question her about an ID theft ring.
What the thief did: The thief or thieves opened multiple credit cards in Guberman's name and used them to buy more than $14,000 worth of clothes and expensive jewelry. "They bought a lot of engagement rings and Ralph Lauren clothes," Guberman says. A year later, they hacked into her bank account and stole $17,000 -- which she discovered on her birthday when she went to pay for a massage and her debit card was declined. When she got home, her husband told her he'd tried to buy her flowers, but his card had been declined, too. There was 10 cents left in the account.
The aftermath: Guberman's once-excellent credit score crashed. "I had 11 or 12 credit cards, they were all maxed out. I had never made a payment, and they were all in collections," she says. She made hundreds of phone calls to resolve the problem and restore her good credit. She put a seven-year fraud alert and a freeze on her credit report.
Outcome: Police never learned who was behind the identity theft or how the thief got Guberman's information, but they told her there were about a dozen other victims in her area. Guberman never got her money back from the bank.
Lesson learned: Consider a security freeze, which is available to anyone and prevents credit bureaus from providing your credit report to new lenders without your approval. "It's a minor inconvenience, but it's worth it," Guberman says.
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