It was like any other Saturday—I got off work, ate a snack, then flopped into bed. This particular evening, I was dozing off when my phone buzzed with a text from Chase Fraud, “Did you purchase $300 at a shoe store?” Uh, no.
Getting your wallet stolen is a bitch.
The damage: a hundred dollars cash, my driver’s license, a debit card, my birth certificate (with my social security number written on the back), a sticky note with both my checking and savings account numbers scribbled on it, and various other cards (including my car insurance/registration, my voter registration card, my AAA card, several gift cards, and an old student ID).
My first step was to report the fraudulent charges to Chase. The cool thing about their fraud service (which might be true for other national banks) is when they text you about a possible fraudulent charge, if you say, “Yes it’s fraudulent,” they automatically call you. If your bank is not this fancy, you can find customer service numbers online or on your bank statements.
At first, I got the standard pre-recorded voice (wanting either my card number or my account number for verification) but after about a minute I was directed to a real human being. The woman asked me for my address (more verification) and then to confirm which charges were fraudulent. She listed off the last five or so, but I had to log into my online account to see exactly what she was talking about. There were three fraudulent charges: $50 at a gas station, $300 at FootLocker, and $30 at a nail salon. She flagged the charges, canceled my card, and informed me that a new one was on its way.
As for reversing the charges, she told me it would only take about 12 hours for a refund to be posted to my account, but this was not entirely true. The two smaller charges were credited to my account the next morning, but the $300 charge from FootLocker was not. Now this delay isn’t necessarily the banks fault, they have to work with the stores (who may or may not be open and/or challenge the charges). So, if you’re making a claim on the weekend, don’t be surprised if the credits/debits don’t clear until Monday or Tuesday. Overall, the call took about 15 minutes and was pretty painless.
Now if you’re smarter than I am, you won’t put your actual account numbers in your wallet. If the thief had just gotten my debit card, I could have reported it stolen and just waited for a replacement in the mail. But, since we’ve established I’m kind of an idiot, I had to go to my local branch and switch over all my accounts instead.
The guy who helped me told me that my situation was not uncommon and was very helpful. He created new checking and savings accounts for me and transferred over all my money. He kept the old accounts open, but frozen, so only deposits could be made. (This is so that you can be reimbursed for the fraudulent charges.) It shouldn’t cost any money to do this and, if you have one, bring your passport (or some form of identification, i.e. your social security card or birth certificate etc.) Or better yet, call ahead and find out what identification they need.
After I got off the phone with Chase, I called the police to file an incident report. This meant, about an hour later, an officer showed up at my house to take my statement and give me an identity theft packet with lots of helpful (and scary) information. I gave him a copy of my bank statement (printed off the Internet) because I had noticed that all the purchases were made at local stores. The officer told me this would help tremendously. Now a detective had specific stores to check, along with the exact purchase amounts. But, because my work place (which is where we’d determined the theft had occurred) doesn’t have cameras, getting the thief on camera, at one of these stores, was the only way to identify him or her.
The Credit Bureaus
Next up, I checked my credit report with each of the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experion, and TransUnion. (Did I know there were three credit bureaus before this fiasco? I did not.) Luckily, I discovered that www.annualcreditreport.com allows you to check all three bureaus at once, which eased the pain a little. I put in my name and social security number. Then I was prompted to answer really random yet oddly specific questions that only I should know. Things like “Where did I live before 2000?” and “How much money did I make in 2010?” Don’t worry, it’s multiple choice.
You should not have to pay to get your credit report. (There could be a fee if you’ve already checked your report in the past year, but if it’s been more than 12 months, you should be fine.) Credit scores typically cost, but reports should not. Reports are mostly for record keeping purposes and so that you can see if anyone’s stolen your identity in the future. I gave the reports a once over, everything checked out so I saved a digital copy and printed another one out for good measure.
Technically you should call each credit bureau and let them know your information has been stolen. I didn’t do this because the credit bureaus can’t stop identity theft and I was 99% sure that this was a punk kid who just wanted my money, not my identity.
Getting a new license is like getting your old one, you wait in line, fill out a piece of paper, and get your picture taken—which I still had to shell out $9 for. Replacing my voter registration card was free. Fortunately, I did not need another copy of my car registration, but if you do, just have your license plate number with you.
And The Rest
Cash and gift cards are just gone, they’re never coming back.
I don’t have credit cards, but if you do, approach it like you’re dealing with the bank. Also, I can’t speak for getting new insurance documents (because I had duplicates), but I would suggest calling your provider and going from there.
The document that continues to keep me up at night is my short form birth certificate. It’s the size of a credit card, and contains my name, birthday, and the city I was born in, embossed with a government seal. This document alone could do some serious damage, but I also wrote my social security number on the back of it because I’m a genius. If someone really wanted to be malicious, they’d have everything they needed (driver’s license, birth certificate, SSN) to steal my identity. I know it seems convenient and portable to have your life in one place, but for your own sanity, don’t be like me. Bad things happen, minimize the damage.
The police still haven’t caught the thief.
Photo by Meaghan Morrison