In this article, I will give you tips on what worked for me in a very short period of time ... in less than 40 days! I have provided meaningful and helpful summaries to highlight the key points so that you can also help to catch a thief if this ever happens to you.
The important point is that you need to take immediate action. And, this is MY story. It really happened this way. My true story of how I helped authorities to catch a thief in under 40 days -- you too can do something!
P.S. I don't want to experience this again! Safeguard yourselves too.
Photo Credit: Ali Baba (Cover Design for "The Forty Thieves"), 1897 by Aubrey Beardsley.
To Catch a Thief Poll
Please answer our little question Have you been a victim of identity theft?
- Yes - unfortunately I too have been such a victim.
- No - I am quite lucky not to have experienced this.
This is a true story!
To catch a thief! It happened to me! In June 2005, I was the victim of identity theft and credit card fraud that put my world into a tizzy for quite some time.
Update: Fast forward to today
To catch a thief? Wouldn't want to face this experience today!
It's SEVERAL years since I was a victim of ID theft and several years since I first wrote about it! ... As I'm updating this lens for the umpteenth time, I'm finding that this information is just as timely today! It is topical or has that topicability quotient.
I just heard AGAIN on the news how identity theft is still an issue for many. Hopefully, you've made your way here at least for one visit and saved this lens to your favorites. In a nutshell, I believe the bottomline is YOU can help catch that thief today and have some gratification.
The internet may have made it possible for more bad guys, BUT the internet has also made it possible for the little guy to do something to combat identity theft and credit card fraud. Don't sit back, take a proactive stance and do it now!
Day #1a ... My First Clue!
6/07/05--Qchex.com/Neovi Data - My first clue that someone had my credit card number and personal information was on June 7, 2005 when I received a VersaCheck Form 1000 receipt in the mail from Qchex.com/Neovi Data Corporation for a QC-PP2, Pay-As-You-Go Check Service Level 2 costing $20.00 for the first month.
The receipt indicated that someone by the name of Steve Collins, with an email address of firstname.lastname@example.org, had used my credit card to purchase from Qchex.com a check paying service. It appears that his intent was to fund his checks with my credit card that he obtained through fraudulent means.
I contacted Qchex through their website and by telephone to alert them that this was not my charge and was certainly not authorized by me.
P.S. Do you get the irony of the email address used? It translates to "bread lover!" A crook with a sense of humor? Oh, and the name of Steve Collins is an alias used more than once!
Day #1b ... More Charges Begin to Hit!
6/07/05--Checking my credit card statement online - On June 7, 2005, as I was logged into my credit card account online and holding to talk with a customer service rep about the Qchex $20.00 unauthorized charge, right before my eyes I saw two additional charges pop up in the "temporary charges." I quickly printed a copy of this online statement.
The first unauthorized charge was from Abercrombie.com in the amount of $410.83. It was later discovered this was for eight $50.00 Abercrombie & Fitch gift cards.
I made several telephone calls to customer service at A&F, speaking with 3-4 different reps. Each time that I called I got more information about what had been purchased with my credit card. By the time that I spoke with the last rep, I knew what was purchased and where it was shipped; but the rep put a supervisor on the phone then. A&F took the position that they would release ALL information when they received a fax from a Police Department on police letterhead.
The second charge was from Automotive Prof. for approximately $2,150.00. As this charge was "caught" online while in temporary approval status, I believe it was denied and did not get assigned a reference number on my account.
Day #1c ...First Notifications!
6/07/05--Credit Card and Credit Bureau Credit Card Company: Of course, the first steps taken were to close my credit card account and get another credit card number issued. Wow! That was indeed a headache as it's necessary to change all your bill-paying accounts that automatically charge each month to that credit card number.
I lost count at one-dozen and somehow, I kept coming up with another company that required my new credit card number.
Credit Bureau: Almost in the same breath, it was necessary to contact the 3 credit card bureaus to put a fraud watch on my account. That was a pleasant experience! Not. However, you do get free credit reports.
IFCC Complaint: I filed two separate online complaints; one against Qchex, Neovi, and Steve Collins and the other against Abercrombie.com.
Days 2-9 ... Covering my bases!
6/08-6/14/05--One week of tension headaches and sleeplessness! For the first week after being victimized, it presented many challenges and frustrations. As a precaution, my credit card company issued yet another credit card and closed the one they had just opened for me. I'm still not clear on what prompted them to do this, but I preferred to error on the side of caution.
I kept going over in my head HOW this person got my information! I was able to clue-in on 3 different things that had happened.
Several days before, I had received a telephone call in the morning around 10:30am in which a young man asked my name and then hung up. Hmmm, so someone was verifying my name and address?
Suspicious guestbook entries on one of my websites bore the trademark signature of the Nigerians: "muguuuuuuuuu, email@example.com." I pulled the associated IP addresses of these entries and sent them to the authorities.
A couple of weeks before, I had registered through email--providing my credit card number and personal information--to a "high-profile" auctioneer that was in the news getting ready to auction off Marilyn Monroe memorabilia on eBay. Yes! That's right -- it was Marilyn Monroe stuff!!! After that, I saw a $25.00 participation charge on my credit card that I didn't realize I was going to be charged. I believe it's a possibility that my personal information was not safeguarded at the auctioneer's end.
Lastly, I had purchased several shoes from a shoe store in Jacksonville located in a less than desirable part of town. When the clerk went into the back room with my card to right up the check, I should have thought that was strange at the time.
Day 10a ... Rip Off Report Filed
6/15/05--A recommended action. I filed an online Rip-Off Report on Neovi, Qchex.com claiming that they "facilitated internet fraud against me by not verifying credit card used for charging."
My report stated: "...Qchex.com aka Neovi...NEVER bothered to check that the information of the credit card used MATCHED this supposed STEVE COLLINS....When I called Qchex.com at the 800-303-2620 to dispute this charge, the customer rep seemed to be expecting my call...Qchex needs to be MORE vigilant in using other people's credit cards to pay for their services."
Day 10b ... Police Report
6/15/05--Filing in both locations. I filed a General Offense / Incident Report with my local Sheriff's Office and updated it on 6/24/05 with Steve Collins' name plus address on S. Cicero Avenue in Chicago, Illinois.
Let me tell you that this was a challenge to get done! I had to call the police department several times to get someone interested in taking my report. You see, I kept hearing that "we can't help you if the 'crook' resides in a different state."
I kept asking, "Don't you share information across state lines? Isn't there a network to catch these thieves?"
Day 11 ... Google Blog
6/16/05--The key step. This was the key step to putting everything into motion for catching several thieves! In retrospect, I would probably write in my blog as soon as possible after the occurrence as Google is so awesome in getting information dispersed quickly!
I wrote two separate posts on my Google Blog. The first was entitled, "Online Fraud -- Who the heck is Steve Collins anyways ??" The second was entitled, "Online Fraud -- Abercrombie & Fitch $50.00 Gift Cards."
Day 17 ... Consumer Fraud Complaint
6/22/05--An awesome consumer resource. I mailed a Consumer Fraud Complaint to Lisa Madigan, the Attorney General in the State of Illinois. After doing a bit of research on the internet, I found the form to download and sent it in.
Let me tell you that Lisa Madigan is a go-getter! You can count yourself lucky if your "thief" resides in the State of Illinois because someone actually gets on the case!
Interesting that I do recall not so long ago seeing Lisa Madigan being interviewed on TV by some reporter. She was discussing her role in crime prevention in her state! It sure impressed me.
Day 19 ... A Private Investigator Inquires
6/24/05--My Google Blog gets results! On June 24th, I received a most "curious" email from a private investigator in Chicago, Illinois. You could have heard me several houses away when I yelled. Why, you ask? Well, see for yourself ... the text of the email follows:
Subject: Steve Collins
Date: Fri, 24 Jun 2005 20:21:33
"Can you call me about this guy? We got an inquiry yesterday to do a background check for a subject who stated to be a Steve Collins wishing us to do a check on a prospective biz partner. We are almost done and my Sr. Investigator got some 'vibes' about this Collins and somehow she discovered your bad exp. Please call so we can look at this closely 'cause the guy who ripped your Identity matches the info on your web-close (Oak Lawn he stated he resides) but I want to make sure before I contact CPD. I am former law enforcement so I hate ID theft and other things like such, but I want to make sure I have the right bad-guy before I jump in w/this."
This private investigator was truly amazing! I am in awe of what he was able to accomplish. We spoke many, many times and emailed each other throughout the weeks that followed to keep each other apprised of new developments! Because of his wonderful investigative work, I have chosen to identify him with my favorite PI, Magnum! ;-)
Day 22 ... Cook County, IL
6/27/05--Police report in local jurisdiction. I received an email from an Intake Specialist Supervisor in Cook County, Illinois advising me:
"You will need to contact the Mayor's Office of Inquiry and Information at (312) 744-4000 or (312) 744-5000. The Mayor's Office of Inquiry and Information will direct you to the proper police station to file a police complaining/report in Chicago."
Day 23 ... Oak Lawn, IL Detective
6/28/05--An awesome police detective intervenes! I can't say enough about how impressed I was with the Detective that I worked with at the Oak Lawn Police Department. It truly restored my faith in police detectives!
By this time, I had prepared a log of my case that I was able to share with this detective who was given the name of the private investigator with which I was communicating.
Interesting enough, it seemed that the name "Steve Collins" was being used again to get personal information on quite possibly the next target of credit card fraud.
Day 32 ... U.S.P.S. Senior Inspector
7/07/05--The USPS gets involved. I received a telephone call from a U.S.P.S. Senior Inspector in the Chicago area. Previously, the detective had informed me that there was a postal inspector working the case.
The inspector asked many questions about what had happened to me, what I knew about "Steve Collins," and shared a bit of information with me.
"The name doesn't really mean anything. The Nigerians are ordering all kinds of merchandise and gift cards and in most instances the names don't even match up with the actual credit card -- and they definitely don't match up with the address where the goods are sent, which is why that merchant will eat the loss rather than your credit card company. This 'Steve Collins' name used by a suspect here in Chicago was just a coincidence and had nothing to do with The UPS Store address associated to your fraud, but thanks for the lead on a new case."
Following up, he replied, "Your guess is good as mine as to how they acquired your information. I'll be meeting with my two suspects again next Tuesday and we're trying to contact the potential victim in Wheaton, IL because the suspect was trying to get the maiden name through that security firm. Could be this guy was also recruited by Nigerians to run the credit reports, which is how they could get the cardholders info."
Day 37 ... Day FDIC Alert Issued
7/12/05--Qchex Fraudulent Checks. The FDIC issued a Special Alert, SA-82-2005:
"TO: CHIEF EXECUTIVE OFFICER (also of interest to Security Officer)
SUBJECT: Fraudulent Checks Created Using Qchex.com
Summary: Several financial institutions, retailers and consumers have reported receiving fraudulent checks that were created using an online service called Qchex.com.
Several financial institutions, retailers and consumers have reported receiving fraudulent checks issued via Qchex.com, a subsidiary of Neovi Data Corporation, San Diego, California. Qchex.com is an online service that enables users to print checks or send checks by e-mail to recipients who could then print them. Financial institutions should be aware that some, but not all, checks created using this service may be fraudulent.
The fraudulent checks may bear actual routing numbers assigned to the drawer bank, along with either actual or fictitious account numbers. A signature is not required on the face of the check, and due to the microprinting aspect, the checks may bypass special handling requirements. The checks may or may not contain Qchex tracking codes."
Summing it up!
Mid July 2005. The months of June and July, 2005 meant that each day for me was back to Square One with my own personal investigation; i.e. doing research online, contacting every possible authority I could, and then working with the attorney general, private investigator, police detective, and finally postal inspector. I took it upon myself to prepare extensive documentation that I updated and shared with all the authorities and agencies working on the investigations.
To my knowledge, at the very least, the 2 suspects were apprehended by the senior inspector and another victim was identified and quite possibly spared the victimization of the Nigerians.
The 2 suspects were college age students who had already secured fake IDs; were picking up lots of merchandise through the drop box; had been selling the merchandise on eBay and other auction sites; and then sending proceeds to the Nigerians who recruited them!
Contacts that worked for me!
You know, Google was the GREAT INFORMATION RESOURCE for me too!
- Equifax Personal Solutions
Equifax offers a great many valuable services! Don't Let Identity Thieves Ruin Your Credit! Get: 3-in-1 Monitoring.
- Rip-Off Report
The Rip-Off report was created for everyday consumers who are concerned about being cheated. The Rip-Off report allows YOU, the consumer, to be armed with the opinions and comments of your fellow consumers.
- File Complaint with IC3
Prior to filing a complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), please read the following information regarding terms and conditions.
- Internet Crime Complaint Center
The Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C).
- Federal Trade Commission
Education is a key tool to prevent consumer injury. In this section of our website, you'll find publications with advice on avoiding scams and rip-offs, as well as tips on other consumer topics.
- Illinois Attorney General
Attorney General Lisa Madigan's Consumer Protection Division protects Illinois consumers and businesses victimized by fraud, deception, and unfair business practices.
- Cook County Sheriff
Online contact form to send a message to the Cook County Sheriff.
- Oak Lawn Police Department
The Oak Lawn Police Department, in partnership with the citizens of Oak Lawn, recognizes the needs of our community and law enforcement's role in addressing those needs.
- United States Postal Inspection Service
The mission of the United States Postal Inspection Service is to protect the U.S. Postal Service, its employees and its customers from criminal attack, and protect the nation's mail system from criminal misuse.
- USA Cops
A nationwide directory of "cops" through the U.S. You can click on an interactive map to find your local sheriff's office.
- Jacksonville Sheriff's Office
More than 3200 men and women of the Jacksonville Sheriff's Office are dedicated to protecting the lives and property of the citizens of this community, preserving the peace and preventing crime and disorder.
Free Annual Credit Reports
The first thing you can do to protect yourself against identity theft is to take advantage of the new, free credit reports that are available annually. Guaranteeing that others are not using your personal information is critical, and these free credit reports will help ensure your identity has not been stolen.
You are entitled to a free credit report once a year from the top three credit reporting agencies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. I encourage you to visit www.annualcreditreport.com, call 877-322-8228, or write to the Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281 for more information.
Opt-Out of Prescreened Credit Card Offers
You can also protect yourself from identity theft by opting-out of prescreened credit card offers.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), the Consumer Credit Reporting Companies are permitted to include your name on lists used by creditors or insurers to make firm offers of credit or insurance that are not initiated by you ("Firm Offers"). The FCRA also provides you the right to "Opt-Out", which prevents Consumer Credit Reporting Companies from providing your credit file information for Firm Offers. Through this website, you may request to Opt-Out from receiving Firm Offers for Five Years.
Please visit www.optoutprescreen.com for more information.
Social Security Number Privacy and Identity Theft Prevention Act
H.R. 3046 - Congressman Michael McNulty (D-NY) introduced H.R. 3046, the Social Security Number (SSNs) Privacy and Identity Theft Prevention Act.
The measure prohibits the federal government from listing SSNs on government documents, such as Medicare cards. The measure also prevents the sale of SSNs by private and government entities in most cases and prohibits access to SSNs by the public in most cases. H.R. 3046 has been referred to the Committee on Ways and Means where it awaits consideration.
This common-sense bill is long overdue. Fraudulent use of SSNs is rampant in the U.S. and could be combated by simple measures such as those included in H.R. 3046.
P.S. Other Fraudbusters!
Thank you for your support.
Ted Richardson, For twenty plus years, I have resolved and prevented fraud. I do this to provide a forum where people can become aware of the most current scams and find resources to protect themselves. Thank you for referencing my experience in Diary of an Identity Theft Victim published June 19, 2006.
Michael Holdcroft is the author of the blog Crime Online. My personal comments on 419 and other nigerian scams. Thank you for referencing my experience in To Catch a Thief on Squidoo published June 9, 2006.
Thank you everyone! A lot of wonderful people have taken the time to personally email me to tell me how much they enjoyed this lens and to share their experiences.
- Peg, 6/9/06: I read your Squidoo lens this morning featured in my e-mail this morning. It was really interesting - Thank you for sharing with the public!
- Michael, 6/9/06: I came across your lens this morning as a recommendation from Squidoo. I have posted your lens to my blog at http://crime-online.info/blog/. I hope that is ok.
- Katarina, 6/9/06: Wow! Amazing story. I hope your ok now. I am also always worried about this kind of things. Excellent lens :)
- Nancy, 6/9/06: You do such a great job with your many lenses! I had my identity stolen about 12 years ago. Fortunately it was short lived. They gave up on it without being caught. They had broken into the trunk of my car where I had stashed my purse.
- Ted, 6/11/06: This is really good. If you wouldn't mind - I'd love to do a post on it with a link to the original, of course. Very interesting perspective, from a personal level.
- Gary 6/20/06: Thank you ... for posting on this topic. It's fantastic info for awareness purposes: too many ID theft stories come across as anonymous scare stories, things that 'happen to someone else'. You've put it across in a personal way that makes people (including me) think 'It could happen to me'.
Reader Spotlight Email
I received this email from a reader, Judy, on June 9, 2006. As the information she shared is pertinent to this lens, I've summarized it below.
- Sorry to hear about your problem. I, too, had my CC number used fraudulently. This was, I think, in December of 2002 or 2003.
- How did I discover it? Well, I got a package from TechDepot, to me, for something I did not order.
- I called up TechDepot (a division of Office Depot) and we verified my CC#, verified my address -- but when we went to verify my email address -- there came the difference! Aha!
- So, I contacted my CC company and they were happy to help out and remove the charge -- as well as checking out several other charges on CC, some of which were mine, some were not.
- The CC gave me a new CC number.
- BUT -- what you should know is this: 1/ Even if you get a new CC number thru the same company, Merchant
companies can actually arrange, contractually, that any charges will be billed to any follow up CC#!
- 2/ Over time, I continued to have charges put thru -- via the merchant and the CC -- I don't believe the original thief was any longer involved. It was just the merchant continuing to try to make money, and continuing to put charges thru that had not gone thru before.
- I had to contact the bank several times about this. I finally talked to a part of the bank who said they were the "fraud" department -- and that this was the first time I had talked to them (!).
- They said they would put a fraud alert on my CC (funny, because I thought I had had a fraud alert put on my CC originally.)
- This was an amazing 2 1/2 years LATER from when the new CC# was issued.
- The morals to the story: 1/ Be sure to talk to the FRAUD department of the issuing bank.
- 2/ Make sure they put a fraud alert on your account, even though you have a new number. As I understand it, the fraud alert will assure that "follow on" charges will not be allowed.
- 3/ Never, ever, ever stop looking at the charges on your CC.
- No one ever suggested to me to call the police, though. Curious. But then, I also had no trouble getting the charges off my CC.
- And, no, I really have no clue as to how they came across my CC number.
Lens of the Day Award!
June 9, 2006 - This lens was originally created on May 18, 2006 and featured as The Lens of the Day on June 9, 2006. It's been updated umpteenth times since its original release -- to keep it pertinent! Thank you Squidoo people for the honor of my first lens of the day! It was an awesome experience to have a lens of the day in the early days of Squidoo!
Thank you for visiting my page.
I hope you have found it of value. If you've been victimized or know of someone who has been, please let me know. I would like to know what steps you took that helped "to catch a thief." If you would like to link to this lens so that others can have reference to these tips, please feel free to do so!
History: To Catch a Thief : Identity Theft was originally created on Squidoo by JaguarJulie on May 18, 2006. This lens was featured as The Lens of the Day on June 9, 2006. Highest lensrank ever achieved: #127 overall. Lens #29 in the quest for Giant Squid 100 Club Charter Member 2007.