College Staff Member Offers Tips on Identity Theft
A couple of years ago,
a Trinity administrator received a letter from an investment firm with
whom she did business explaining that her written request to liquidate
her mutual fund account could not be honored without a bank signature
medallion. Included in the envelope was a copy of a letter with what
appeared to be her signature asking the firm to redeem the account and
forward the money to a bank in North Carolina. The letter included all
her personal financial and identification information. There was only
one problem: Lanna Hagge, director of career services, had made no
such request regarding her investment account. That letter was the
beginning of an 18-month personal and financial nightmare.
“My first reaction was, ‘the sky is falling’ and then, ‘how could this
happen?’ Hagge explains. “It’s not the kind of crime, like if your
house or car is broken into, that you can just run out in the street
and yell, ‘I’ve been robbed!’ I wasn’t sure what to do.”
After contacting the fund administrator the next morning and being
assured that no money was missing, Hagge contacted the legal
authorities. Over the next several hours, via e-mail and telephone,
she was in touch with the local police, the state police, the FBI, the
chief state’s attorney, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and
the Federal Trade Commission—whose representative told her that such
complaints are quite common and that the FTC would not be following
up. The chief state’s attorney’s office did, however, assign an
investigator. As no money was stolen, and the proper authorities were
on the case, Hagge assumed the incident was over. It was not.
Approximately three months later, Hagge went to an ATM to get some
cash. Much to her surprise, and utter dismay, there was no money in
her account. Someone had written a check against her account and had,
essentially, cleaned it out. Hagge was frantic; she had recently
transferred a large sum into the account to buy a car. She called the
special investigator who had previously been assigned to her case.
Over the next several months the investigator doggedly unraveled the
series of threads that had led to Hagge being the victim of identity
theft and to a defendant who may be deported. The bank has reimbursed
Hagge for the money that was stolen from her.
Here’s how the identity theft happened: several months earlier, Hagge
had co-signed a lease so that her son, a medical student, could rent
an apartment through a major New York real estate company. During that
process, she was required to provide detailed financial and other
personal information in order to verify her credit status. That
information was subsequently stolen. It is unclear whether it was an
inside job or someone was able to gain access to the real estate
company’s confidential files. In the course of the investigation by
the chief state’s attorney’s office, a multi-state identity theft ring
“I’m extremely grateful to Gary Mazzone, the investigator,” says
Hagge. “His diligence, professionalism, and compassion for my
situation were invaluable as I went through this.”
Since these events transpired, Hagge has made it her personal mission
to educate everyone she knows about the dangers of identity theft.
“Remember,” she says, “with just your social security number and date
of birth, someone can steal your identity and wreak havoc with your
Here are some tips to help you protect yourself from becoming a victim
of identity theft:
Open your mail
promptly. (If Hagge hadn’t opened the investment firm’s letter when
she did, it might have been too late.)
accounts so that you can check their status frequently.
Request a copy of your
credit report at least annually.
Place a hold on any
new credit accounts. (This requires additional verification that you
have opened the account or made a major purchase.)
Be aware of potential
identity theft risks from organizations and people that you trust. Ask
questions about how they handle confidential information.
Use a cross-cut
shredder to destroy any documents that contain personal information.
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