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Be leery of fraud, theft

1/21/2004 - KUNSAN AIR BASE, South Korea (AFPN) -- Credit card fraud and identity theft are things to be leery of. Even so, often times people do not think they can become a victim of these crimes. But either can ruin the victim's credit line for years.

"Identity theft and credit card fraud occur in several different ways," said Capt. Patrick Dyson, of the 8th Fighter Wing staff judge advocate office here. "The most common [way] that we hear about (is) the thief getting a hold of an individual's social security number and other personal data then opening lines of credit with credit-card companies, department stores and other credit-lending institutions. Some thieves will have fake identification made using the personal information they stole from the individuals."

Capt. Dede Halfhill, 8th Fighter Wing executive officer, recently found she had become the victim of credit card fraud and identity theft.

"I received a letter a few weeks ago from Discover credit card services telling me that they were unable to approve an application for credit (because of) their inability to verify certain personal information," she said. "They wanted me to contact them as soon as possible so they could resolve the issue. The only problem was, I hadn't applied for any credit. So I called, only to have them tell me that someone had applied for a Discover credit card online. I then ordered a credit report to see what was going on with my credit, if anything. I was lucky, and able to order the report immediately online. Once downloaded, I was able to see that 10 more cards had been applied for during a one-week period in December."

Captain Halfhill said although the individual credit companies have been helpful, there is still a lot of work to do to clear her name.

"(Because of) the recent nature of the applications, the cards had only appeared in the inquiry section and were not yet listed on my credit. Therefore, the credit agency couldn't tell me the total charges," she said. "I had to call each card separately to verify a card exists, get it cancelled and determine total charges. I'm still in the process of doing this, as some companies have been easier to contact than others. The hardest part is the time difference and the feeling of not really having control."

Captain Dyson said the things Captain Halfhill is doing to regain control of her credit are exactly what he would do if he happens to find himself in her shoes.

"If you think you are a victim, you should notify the credit-lending institution as well as the credit-reporting agencies," he said. "The credit-reporting agencies will put out an alert to lenders when somebody tries to establish credit using your information."

Captain Halfhill said she has always guarded her personal information to try and prevent this type of thing from happening.

"I've always been very good (about) shredding documents, bills, credit applications and anything else with personal information on it," she said. "However, through talking to investigators, I think the information was collected through old mail, which was delivered to my old address after I (moved). The transactions that are not online are taking place in Las Vegas, Nev. And they are taking place a year after I left so it looks like either something came in the mail recently that contains a lot of my information or it was collected over time. They have my name, address, Social-Security number and birth date."

While both captains said they believe guarding personal information is key to prevent being a victim, Captain Halfhill said now that she has been through it, there is more one can do.

"Contact the three credit agencies and get a credit report, review it, and do this at least every year. You can get them online and it's definitely worth the money," she said. "Also, stay informed. There are several Web sites that talk about protecting yourself from credit fraud."

One Web site Captain Halfhill recommends is www.idtheftcenter.org.

Captain Halfhill said the biggest lesson she learned throughout her whole ordeal is to stay involved.

"This is my financial life and no one else is looking out for it but me," she said. "It's my responsibility to keep it secure and accurate, and I can't do that from the sidelines. I hadn't looked at a credit report since college, eight years ago. Who knows what could have been going on all this time. I was actually very lucky. It will now be something I check twice a year. In our electronic world it's too important not to."

 Identity theft resource center