Becoming a victim of identity theft is akin to entering your residence and discovering a burglar has ransacked your home.
Anger and fear are typical reactions. ThirdCertainty recently sat down with Maria Valenzuela, senior fraud investigator at CyberScout, whose job it is to help victims move past despair and respond proactively to identity theft. (CyberScout sponsors ThirdCertainty.)
Q: What’s it like when you receive a call from an identity theft victim?
A: Typically, the victim is upset. They’re worried that they’ve lost control of everything. So they’re usually very upset. They’re angry, confused and sometimes cry. We’ll listen to exactly what’s happened and calm them down by helping them to understand that there are steps you can take to resolve what has already happened. And then we walk them through step by step.
Our job is to make sure that everything is resolved. They don’t have any financial responsibility, their accounts and credit histories are restored, and they walk away with protection and the knowledge that their information is useless to whoever may have it.
We’re usually able to take somebody from a very high level of stress to a feeling of peace and confidence that everything is going to work out.
Q: What if my Social Security number is stolen?
A: The typical identity theft is where someone will take your Social Security number and begin applying for credit cards. We would begin with helping you call those credit card companies. We’re familiar with the credit card companies’ fraud departments, the documents required, the timeframes.
We write all the letters on your behalf, help you make those calls, prepare the documents that are required, and make sure they get sent. We would also help you on the credit reporting side. We’re able to address any impact to your credit report. We’re able to get accounts, addresses, inquiries—everything removed from the credit reports.
Q: And what about protection, going forward?
A: If your Social Security number has been stolen and it’s been used to apply for credit, you have different options. There are seven-year fraud alerts that we help people put into place. That’s a warning statement that goes on your credit reports. It tells credit grantors not to issue credit unless they’ve contacted you. We help them get the seven-year alerts in place so they have a long form of protection in place.
We can also help them with things like credit freezes. If you want to apply for credit, you have to call the credit bureaus with specific PINs and answer security questions, so that would be the strongest form of protection that you can have added.
Q: So in the aftermath, you help me regain a semblance of control over my identity?
A: We do. Fraud alerts and credit freezes are what are going to stop someone from opening up any other credit while we work on getting what has happened resolved. And we put that protection in place to stop anything from happening in the future.
Q: Do you see victims’ behavior and attitude change as part of this process?
A: Yes. We have people starting off very upset, and then after we’ve gotten accounts out of their name, we’ve gotten things off their credit reports straightened out, and they have fraud alerts or a credit freeze in place, everything’s been resolved.
At that point, they understand that even though somebody has their personal information it’s useless to them because of the protection that’s in place. At that point, they don’t have any type of financial responsibility or impact to their credit rating.
They can proceed with getting credit when they need to. So it gives them a sense of security. And they’ve also gained knowledge and the understanding that even though someone has their information, they’re not going to be able use it.
Byron Acohido is editor-in-chief of ThirdCertainty.com, where this article originally appeared.