Woman Battles ID Thieves Who Keep Coming Like Zombies
Carole Stuber, a Long Island, N.Y., retiree, isn’t much of a gamer. So when she spotted a $400 charge from an online video game seller on a 2010 credit card statement, it stood out. Next came charges for subscriptions to music and motorcycle magazines—again, not really Stuber’s cup of tea.
Stuber successfully disputed the odd charges, but like in any good video game, the bad guys just kept coming back: Every time Stuber stomped out one problem, another popped up in its place—and suddenly she was at war with an unknown enemy. A few weeks after the initial charges, Stuber noticed a pending online payment of $4,000 in her checking account, which she hadn’t scheduled. She blocked it, closed her bank accounts and set up a 90-day alert with the three major credit bureaus. She also closed her credit card accounts and replaced them with new ones, put passwords on every account, and contacted the police and district attorney. Despite these precautions, one of her credit card companies issued a duplicate card to an Arizona address. But luckily she checked her email the day it was shipped, so she was able to keep the credit card company from activating it.
Stuber was a worthy adversary for the crooks who had taken over her accounts. She had worked as a town administrator for 15 years and a tax preparer for 34 years—and she was an enrolled agent with the IRS. She was informed and diligent. She took every step a person should take in these circumstances. So, game over, right?
Roughly a year after the initial fraud, someone walked into an Alabama military credit union and attempted to cash checks from her new account. Then someone began writing counterfeit checks—at least 10—averaging $2,000 each. The bank did not pay on any of these checks, but the thief, or thieves, was undeterred. Next came applications for payday loans and PayPal BillMeLater accounts (including a successful purchase of $2,300 worth of camera equipment), and many attempted online purchases.
Stuber was on perpetual high alert, always on the lookout for new kinds of fraud and theft in her name. “I didn’t see it ending. I was constantly on pins and needles,” she said. She scrutinized every piece of mail, even if it looked like junk mail, because she never knew when or how the thieves would try again. She put together a notebook to organize all the paperwork her case generated and had her bank review every check written on her account. Her diligence came at a price: The bank mistakenly flagged a check she’d written to her insurance company, which delayed the payment—nearly costing her the coverage. Just when it seemed Stuber would never get ahead of the criminals, she discovered she had CyberScout coverage through her auto insurance policy.
CyberScout Senior Fraud Investigator Vicki Volkert immediately put a seven-year fraud alert on Stuber’s files with the three big credit agencies. “I didn’t even know I could do that,” Stuber said. “I only had the 90-day alert set up.” And because thieves had attempted to obtain a payday loan, Volkert also set up fraud alerts with Teletrack, a specialty consumer-reporting agency. She filed a complaint with the Postal Inspection Service, a step she advises whenever a victim’s mailing address is used in the fraud. Perhaps most important, Volkert helped Stuber understand and manage the regular alerts that popped up. “Vicki is a godsend,” Stuber said. “Credit reports are like Greek. The thieves were pursuing so many avenues, but it wasn’t a full-time job for me once Vicki got involved.”
“It was just one thing after another for Carole,” Volkert said. “First her name, then her identity. It started with account takeover and that’s bad enough, but then it just kept piling on.”
Even after Volkert got involved, Stuber’s case went from bad to worse. Someone attempted to transfer $10,000 from her savings to her checking account, then move $5,000 of that money to an E-Trade account in someone else’s name in another state. Next, roughly two years after the initial fraud, someone used Stuber’s Social Security number to file a fraudulent 2011 return. Fortunately, Stuber’s tax expertise helped her spot the fraud—and resolve it—right away. A few months later, Stuber began receiving robocalls and collection letters for $3,000 worth of Apple computer products—which adversely affected her credit, despite the fraud alerts. Volkert and Stuber, by then a great team, quickly cleared Stuber’s credit report.
Now, the two are cautiously optimistic that they may, at last, finally have vanquished their foe.
“Carole always will have to be vigilant,” Volkert said. “But she knows what to do after all these years of working together. Whenever she sees something suspicious she calls me right away—I even recognize her number now—and we work together. To go from credit card fraud all the way to tax fraud…this case has really been up there with the worst of them.”
Through it all, Stuber has maintained a positive attitude and healthy perspective. “I haven’t lost any money, but it’s been horrible,” she said. “A lot of people have lost a lot of money [and] had their credit destroyed. It could have been so much worse. I can have a good attitude about it because of Vicki.”