College Staff Member Offers Tips on Identity Theft

  Lanna Hagge
   

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 was uncovered.

“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 life.”

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.)

  • Establish online 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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