Not Taking Jack: How To Deal With Identity Theft

By Jabulani Leffall. Last updated 14 January 2010. 6 comments
Photo: B Rosen

There's exists a saying that by the way hasn't been independently verified as coming from the Chinese: May you live in interesting times. I say: May I please catch a friggin’ break! Thus it is the subject of “May,” that will be the prominent theme in this post as I’ve been temporarily financially hobbled by anonymous jack moves in the month of May for the second consecutive year. Yes they got me again.

Last May, someone on a commuter bus in Costa Rica hit me for a laptop, a phone DVD and the leather case that carried all this items.

Last month someone went on a spree at Best Buy and Target in San Jose, which I haven’t been to in more than a decade, using my credit card, which – get this – was in my pocket the whole time in Los Angeles and other places that were not San Jose.

Nevertheless, there they were, procuring retail fare from these big-box stores. They even added insult to injury and I footed the bill for their trip on the BART train afterwards. They probably laughed and frolicked on the train with their plastic bags full of goodies.

Meanwhile I am currently trying to corral all the stakeholders – merchants, security staff, police reports and such - to work with my bank so I can get all of these funds back. This is a big pain but that’s a whole other post.

Now, so that your months of May, as it were, don’t turn into June gloom, here is my list of two major themes to consider when pondering reacting against and deterring identity theft.

Because in an era where many people are broke at a level not seen since my late grandmother caught snow flakes in a pan to make vanilla ice cream – in the depression era and beyond Granny Sam added milk, ice and vanilla extract, my mom said it was delish – people tend to steal things and you should be prepared.

Do the “after”math

Usually there’s no way to know what to do until it happens and you have to react. If someone takes over your card like they did with me, you may not find out until days or months later when you’re ordering a pizza and have to have that awkward “sorry-I-need-to-go-to-an-ATM-please-hold-my-ID,” speech with a skeptical waitress.

If you haven’t already taken preventative measures, you need to calm down and act immediately. If it’s a debit card, as painful as it may be, turn it off post haste, clear out your account, and/or transfer funds and shut it off pending an investigation. Some banks won’t even let you recover funds until your card is blocked or deactivated anyway.

If it’s a credit card, recovery is usually more forthcoming but theft can nonetheless haunt you anyway. Contact credit reporting bureaus immediately and get a free credit report from Some services such as even boast a notifying service that let you know when substantial charges appear on your credit report. A good start for this would be use a credit monitoring service such as CreditWatch for 24/7 monitoring of your credit report.

Secure your PC

E-commerce is here to stay and in some areas, such as banking and specialty retailing, it may even some day supplant actual physical transactions at tangibly-touched locations. When it comes to making your hardware, software and web surfing a safe bet, preventative measures can sometimes be just as effective as or even more effective than detecting fraud. First tip: don’t get your laptop stolen and you can increase the chances of this by not leaving it unattended. Second-tip, secure and/or frequently refresh your cookies – the mechanism that saves your passwords and sign-in info - using Internet options in Windows.

Also opt for a Windows sign in when you first boot your PC so no one can just walk up and snoop. By the way, if you’re at an airport or a coffee shop, try, if you can to sit with your back to the wall whenever possible and watch out for nosey “shoulder surfers.” Third, as much of a racket as antivirus software can sometimes be, get some from a reputable vendor with a good support staff.

A common thing for credit card number thieves and their hacker cohorts to do is dump malware on your PC after you’ve clicked on a malicious webpage that was supposedly on a trusted Web Site. Sometimes they even extort you into buying off-brand AV software just to clean your system. They figure you might be embarrassed so you do it to prevent the Geek Squad or Computer Store technician from gouging you by doing a sweep of your system and installing AV software, something that can cost as much as 400 smackaroos.

That’s why this is a smart play by enterprising hackers because the Joseph Heller of it all is that if you don’t buy the thief’s AV software you’re going to pay anyway. If you do get extorted though, the thief not only has your money for their bait and switch software but they also now have, what’s called personally identifiable information (PII), which includes credit card info, that can be used to create fake “cop-and-drop” cards, which I suspect was done at Target and Best Buy, using my number for just one day of devil-may-care purchases. In a cop-and-drop situation, the miscreant knows that someone will get wind of it soon so they “spreed up” and then get in the wind themselves.

Lastly if and when you switch computers wipe all data off your old joint. A good flash drive should do the trick.

Hopefully thinking about these things will help some of you from getting your physical stuff and/or personal info and hard-earned loot cuffed, leaving you with the arduous task of finding ways to use “month-puns” to hide your sorrows from the world when violated.

For 2010, I’m taking some of my own advice and also crossing my fingers with lessons learned and vigilant eyes and ears.

Tagged: Credit Cards
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Guest's picture

If you travel with your laptop, you should make sure it is encrypted along with having a strong password for logon. It's fairly easy for someone that knows what they're doing to simply take an unencrypted drive and read the data off of it without ever having to logon. If it's encrypted, it cannot be read unless they have the encryption key or unless they can logon to the operating system.

Guest's picture

When we buy things on the internet, don't we leave enough information to make the purchase such as shipping/billing address, credit card number with expiration date etc for someone with malignant intent to commit fraud?

I am not saying that the internet store has the intent to commit the fraud, but the employees may?

It seems easier to steal identity information by creating an e-commerce website then to go stealing laptops.

Guest's picture

Well, there's one sure way not to have identity theft happen to you with your credit cards.....solution: Don't have any credit cards!

Close them all. Problem taken care of!

It is amazing to me how many people I run into nowadays that do not have CC's anymore. It is possible to have a life without them.

Guest's picture

Identity theft is not just about credit cards! Even if you don't have one yourself, someone may open up a new credit card under your name with just regular mailing information and other things in your recycling box. Not to mention, bank accounts often get hijacked as well. Not having a credit card definitely does not guarantee you security.

Guest's picture

ERASER by heidi is a great free file wiping solution. just deleting / recycling does not actually remove the contents and files may be easily retrievable. I generally do a 7 pass wipe.

Guest's picture

A similar experience happened to me. ID thieves hacked into my financial accounts and wiped me clean. After a lot of anger and why me, I changed the way I handled my money and my life. I'm not saying you did anything to warrant what happened to you, but I know I did. I hope this is all behind you. But if you find it continues, consider how you're living.