Reality Check: Identity Theft Happens to the Best of Us

Last week, I was catching up on some work in the library between classes. I received a text from my mother, which I assumed would either a) be hassling me about grad school information, or, b) telling me how much she missed me (sorry, Mom!). Fortunately (but actually, unfortunately), it was neither.

Mom: Did you open a Sears credit card?

Upon receiving this text, I was confused. I knew that I had not stepped inside a Sears since I was about 14 and my mother probably had to drag me inside to go shoe shopping.

Me: No I didn’t.

Mom: Are you sure? Cause there’s a bill [at home] with your name saying “thank you for opening your account.” It says you owe money. I don’t care if you did, but I need to know.

Before I could respond, she sent me a picture of the bill she had received in the mail, containing “my” purchases from Sears, and congratulating me for opening a credit card through them. I was puzzled. If I had never opened an account through them before, then why did they have a billing statement saying that I did?

Me: No, I really didn’t.

I frantically called my mother, realizing that this could either be the result of an error or… identity theft. My brain automatically shut out any prospects of the second possibility. That could never happen to me, right? Thoughts like that were running through my head as I spoke to my Mom, who was just as nervous and confused as I was. I kept thinking, “this has to be a mistake.” I remembered how I had always been so cautious. In my mind, things like identity theft only happens in movies were Jason Bateman chases Melissa McCarthy around as she continually sabotages his attempts (via punching him in the throat, namely) to get his identity back.

Real life identity theft isn’t so comical, I realized.

Credit Cards
Identity theft is real and it is scary | Photo courtesy of user Philip Taylor PT via Flickr Commons

As I continued to talk with my mom, I became more and more nervous. Even after checking all of my bank accounts and realizing they were untouched, I remained anxious and confused. A million questions were swimming through my head, and I turned to my one source of comfort at this point: Google.

I typed in, “what to do if you are a victim of identity theft?” I clicked on the U.S. Department of Justice link about ID theft. As I scrolled through their page, which contains various ways to identify if you have become a victim, and what you should do if you have become one, I started to calm down.

By this point, I had ultimately come to terms with my possible fate as a victim of identity theft. But luckily, this had turned out to be false. After I got out of my last class later that evening, I found out that I had not been subjected to identity theft. After speaking with Sears, we came to the understanding that it had been a mistake. A fraud alert was still placed on my credit in the event that something ever happens in the future, it will be harder for anyone to assume my identity.

While I am extremely relieved that the worst case scenario did not occur last week, having this happen to me opened my eyes to how susceptible we all are to having this happen to us. Anyone is vulnerable to this misfortune, even though we perceive ourselves as being invincible.

People have their identities stolen every single day, with nearly 9 million people being victimized in the United States every year according to the Federal Trade Commission. Several years ago, the TJ Maxx Corporation experienced what is said to be the largest case of identity theft in U.S. history, where over 45 million credit and debit cards were stolen from their database.

With this in mind, as well as a scare such as mine last week, we all need to keep in mind the risks that are always present. While there is no sure way to avoid something like identity theft from happening to you, it is important to be aware and actively take measures to prevent it. Looking back now, I can be more lighthearted about my incident–but my eyes are definitely wide open now.

Aria Ruggiero

Aria is a Junior in CAS studying Psychology. She enjoys writing and photographing for the Quad, as well as having an unhealthy obsession with guacamole, blazers, and the Yankees.

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