According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Bulletin, 3.6 million people were the victim of identity theft in 2004. I was one of those victims. When I first noticed an error on my checking account statement, I assumed that it was an error and not fraud. I was not vulnerable to fraud…was I?
I was planning my wedding in 2004. For those of you who were the person primarily planning your wedding , you know how many expenses you incur and how many checks that are cut—deposits, first installments, surprise “expenses”, etc. My wedding was no different.
I purchased a very unique dress. I knew I needed some sort of foundation garment for the skirt, but I had no idea what I needed. A friend of mine suggested a wedding boutique in Alexandria, VA. I was living in Baltimore at the time, so it would take over an hour to get there. She really liked the place so I decided to make the trip.
I did find the right foundation garment for the skirt. I also found a veil and silk shoes to match my dress. My dress was silk. My total was around $375 and I decided to pay for it at once even though the boutique had to order my shoes. I was afraid if I only put half down, I might forget the total bill or forget that I had an additional expense to remember. I am pretty sure I made the payment in the summer. My friend picked up the purchase for me when the shoes came in, so I never went back to the store.
In October I saw an unknown charge on my credit card statement for $375. I remembered $375 sum since it was a unique number. It was the amount from the bridal boutique. Yet, it was from a jewelry store and not from the bridal boutique. My first thought, since I had worked for a retailer, was that the bridal boutique and the jewelry store were owned by the same company and the credit card terminals were switched. At my previous employer, we had a similar situation. One credit card terminal had been moved from one location to another so it gave inaccurate data. The transactions were correct, just the location of the transaction was incorrect. Thus, I figured the same thing was happening in Alexandria. So I called the jewelry store to explain the situation—that I had been charged twice for the slip, veil and shoes so that the store could remove the charge.
When I called the store, the woman on the phone was perplexed. She said that the jewelry store was not affiliated with the bridal boutique. She revealed that one of her “very good customers” came into the store and explained that her sister “Elizabeth XXXXX” wanted to purchase a ring. She gave the associate my credit card information in order to make the purchase. I explained that am “Elizabeth XXXXX” but I cannot be her sister because I am an only child. I said that the only items I have ever purchased in Alexandria were from the bridal boutique. The associate paused for a minute and said that her “very good customer” worked at that bridal boutique.
The jewelry store said that they would contact the police. I called the bridal boutique to explain what had happened as well. The manager of the bridal boutique explained that woman who made the purchase at the jewelry store used to work at the bridal boutique. However, there was unexplained money missing from the register and she was let go.
The police easily located this woman and asked if I wanted to file charges. Of course, I wanted to file charges. I was pretty peeved about being out $375. I was slightly concerned that she had my old address. I realized that I could not recall the faces of any of the women who had helped me at the salon. Even if I saw this woman on the street, I would not know who she was which made me more uncomfortable. Luckily, I had moved when I got married so she would not know my current address.
Eventually a court date was set. It was in the summer of 2005 in Alexandria. I was in the third trimester of my pregnancy in 2005. I was quite big and my small black car did not have great air conditioning. I had to make the trip down to Alexandria in a small hot cramped car. I am sure you can tell how overjoyed I was at having to take time out of my day for this trip. Did I mention that I was paid by the hour and if I did not work, I would not be paid? Thus, I was losing money having to go to court.
I met the woman from the jewelry store at the court and I had a long glance at my identity stealer. She looked like an average 40 year old woman. The prosecution told me that the defense attorney asked if the charge could be lessened from a felony to a misdemeanor. I said “no way”–not only was I out $375, but also I was paid hourly and was losing money on account of having to take the day off to go to court. I was really peeved. She received a felony conviction and had to repay the $375. I received a monthly $50 check for over six months. I recouped the $375, but not the money I lost on taking a day off from work and the gas money to drive to Alexandria.
I am grateful that I did not lose thousands of dollars and that my case was solved and settled quickly. It made me aware that no matter what you think you do to protect your identity, even the simplest transaction can compromise your personal information.
Readers, have you ever been the victim of identity theft? What is your story? How did you deal with your thief?
Photo: Kitten stole my cookie in Istanbul, 2001. SD.