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Southern New Jersey

I am a Mom to 2 amazing and fun daughters and wife to a great guy and a wonderful father!

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Kayla, my oldest. She is 4 1/2 and is a sweet, loving and silly little girl. She took us 2 ½ years and 3 IVF’s to conceive. Kayla is allergic to dairy. We manage her allergy and work to balance her safety with giving her a normal childhood. Kayla loves to read books and play games - she amazes me every day.

Alysa, my youngest. She is 3 years old and is a silly little spitfire. She’s our monkey and loves to climb on everything. She was a “natural” baby, but it was only b/c of my wonderful doctors that we were able to stop an impending miscarriage. Alysa suffers from Acid Reflux Disease and sleep apnea. She may be little, but she has a big personality. She adores her big sister and is so much fun to be around. She keeps me laughing every day.

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Friday, May 11, 2007
Our Nightmare
I have refrained from posting this story as I didn’t want to talk about it until it was all said and done. It is now over, so here goes.

Let me tell you a little story about a Boy:

Boy meets Girl. Boy falls head over heals for Girl. Boy marries Girl. Immediately following their honeymoon, Boy is diagnosed with Cancer – Hodgkin’s Lymphoma to be exact. Boy goes through 6 months of Chemotherapy. During Chemo, Boy continues to work 2 jobs so Girl can still party and shop and have huge cellular phone bills. Boy gets a clean bill of health after 6 months of Chemo. Immediately following clean bill of health Girl tells Boy she has been cheating on him and has a Boyfriend. Boy and Girl separate and Divorce. Boy falls in love with Wonderful Girl, marries her and has 2 beautiful, amazing, adorable, sweet…(you get the idea) little Girls. Boy and Wonderful Girl and family live happily every after, never having to think about Yucky Girl again, right? WRONG!

That little story is about J and it’s a true story even if it is the cliff notes version. You’d think that with no children together, he and his first wife should have never seen or heard of each other again. That is what we thought it would be like. But that’s not how it went. Almost 2 years ago (it will be 2 years in June), I was at home and had a girlfriend over. Kayla was napping and I was 3 months pregnant with Alysa. All was good, until I opened our mail. First let me say that I handle the finances in the family. I do the bills, etc. And I open and look at everything – even every piece of perceived junk mail before shredding it. In the mail was an envelope from Chase which, I of course assumed was a solicitation for a credit application. Thankfully I opened it and read it. It was a letter from Chase to J thanking him for his credit application. It let him know that they were processing it and if this letter was “in error”, to please contact them. I remember thinking – J wouldn’t apply for a credit card w/o me knowing. I called J and gave him the information so he could call Chase – of course he told me that he had NOT applied for a Chase card. So as to not drag this out too much, J’s ex-wife (who apparently STILL had his social security number), had applied for a Chase credit card in HIS name and put herself down as his current WIFE and as an authorized user.

It then became a mad dash to put fraud alerts on J’s credit reports as well as get copies of all 3 immediately. I also got his credit scores. The next day we got a letter from Discover saying they put a freeze on his account due to charging activity that did not match his history. J did not have a Discover card. [Side note – medical bills and his ex’s habit of running up major bills put J very behind in his bills, especially since everything was in his name. So she had destroyed his credit while they were married and after. It took us years to repair the damage, but we had. I had even been told the fall before this all happened that we BOTH had excellent credit – this had been music to my ears.] We were devastated to see the extent of the damage. She had applied for over 20 credit cards all within a 1-2 week time period in May of 05 and from that alone, his credit score was destroyed. She applied for all of them over the internet. Chase had approved the credit card but we were lucky enough that Chase had not yet mailed out the credit cards. They have EXCELLENT fraud precautions in place. She put her address on the account, but as protection, Chase mails the letter we got to the last 2 addressed listed on his credit report which is how we got it. Discover approved the application instantly AND gave her INSTANT access to the credit – allowing her to run up apx $2,000 in debt. Luckily or as far as we know, no other cards were issued. But she was also able to obtain a Verizon Wireless cell phone and run up over $500 in cell phone charges in a matter of weeks. This is the scariest because the cell phone was in HER name with J’s social security number. Apparently Verizon did not even LOOK at the report they got. Yes, we knew that we were not legally responsible for the money, but it was devastating to us and the most devastating part was that the credit score J and I had worked so hard to restore was once again destroyed. And in a world where we rely heavily on these numbers from 3 companies, it’s a huge blow – even your insurance rates are dependent on good credit.

Yes, we were lucky that we caught this early – thanks to Chase. So you’d think b/c we caught it early AND we knew who it was that it would be easy to fix and easy to catch her, right? WRONG! Identity Theft is known to be the fastest growing crime, yet no one in law enforcement will take it seriously. We went to our police and were told it’s not their problem; we had to file a report in her town. J went there and was told to go to our police department. He did and filed a report. A few days later when no detective contacted us, I called. I was treated horribly and was told it’s not a violent crime so it was “no big deal”. Again, we were told to go to her town. J did and FINALLY got a report done. But in the mean time, she had no idea we knew and she could continue to charge and do damage. So we hired an attorney. He wrote letters to the police and prosecutor to aid in getting us information – of course to no avail. But most importantly, he wrote a letter to J’s Ex and told her to cease and desist. At least now she knew we knew.

But this became an ongoing struggle with the Prosecutor. They did finally pick up our case. Again, her name was on the applications and she even made in-person charges, so if they had worked fast they could have had eye witnesses to prove it was her. But no – they dragged their feet. We were also lucky b/c when they did finally bring her in for questioning she admitted it. Then of course, why would the companies involved cooperate? Oh, that’s right b/c they want to cover themselves and they don’t care about the law-abiding citizens that they hurt with their ignorance. So Verizon dragged their feet in giving the Prosecutor the paperwork.

In the end, she was arrested and charged (and she plead guilty) with a whole slew of charges for fraud, identity theft and some others. There was even an article – a REAL article – not just a paragraph blurb about her indictment – in the local papers. If she were to get sentenced on each one of the charges individually she would spend years 46 years in jail and have fines in the amount of $160,000. She was sentenced today – finally – after almost 2 years, which is why I’m now comfortable writing about this. She got 364 days in jail, then 2 years of probation, and she has to pay back the companies she defrauded (of course to get our money back we have to take her to small claim’s court – again, the victim doesn’t matter), plus fines which total in excess of $12,000.

And of course, this all couldn’t end with her arrest and the notification to the companies that this was an identity theft situation. Discover ultimately sent J to collections on the charges. Even though they KNEW it was from fraud. We were even told to PAY and then recoup from Discover. Um…yeah, when H*** freezes over. So that was more time out of our lives clearing up the collections issues and getting that off his credit report. And it will be 7 years until all the applications will be removed and his credit fully restored. Of course, we try to get them removed, but you try getting a person at the credit reporting agencies and letters don’t do much b/c you get cookie cutter responses.

So we have done all we can. J and I have now frozen our credit reports. Meaning that no one can access them unless we specifically give them permission. This is not allowed in every state, but New Jersey allows it. And luckily they allow everyone to do it. Meaning that the police would not let J put me down as a victim even though I am. Did she not label herself as his wife, therefore also stealing MY identity? Am I not just as legally responsible for any debts of J’s? But since I’m not on the police report, I’m not considered a victim. So mine is frozen, but each time we need credit, I have to pay to open mine temporarily. But it is a small price to pay to protect our reputation and family. So our lives have been forever changed by her despicable act. She stole from us – she stole J’s name, my identity and our time and money. She destroyed J’s good name. She deserved nothing less than jail time.

With Identity Theft being the fastest growing crime, law enforcement and the justice system really need to catch up. It’s an extremely serious crime. We were lucky that we caught it early AND we knew who was doing the damage. Others are not as lucky and have much more damage done – damage that can take years to correct as well as thousands of dollars. We again were lucky that it “only” cost us over $500 – but that does not include our time, future time and future money spent to open my credit reports. With insurance changes, college, weddings, and everyday life events – it’s unreasonable to say it won’t be costly going forward. And unfortunately I firmly believe that things won’t be taken as seriously as they need to unless someone other than the criminal are held somewhat responsible. And I don’t mean the victims. I mean the companies. Chase took a very easy step in ensuring the validity of the application and I will be forever grateful (I am now a Chase card customer). In the age of internet applications – it is irresponsible of companies like Discover to give instant credit over the internet with NO proof of identity. Honestly, they deserver to be out the money, but in actuality, the stores may very well be forced to eat those costs which is unfair as from their standpoint, she had the card and was listed as a valid user. And Verizon? Her name and his social security number? Need I say more? I believe that these companies (not Chase) need to be held accountable for the part they had in the damage to J – Discover still even tried to collect from him and in doing so hurt his credit score even more. These companies need to take this seriously and protect their customers. In doing so, they would also save themselves money.

So in light of our experience I am offering up some free advice. I highly suggest getting copies of your credit reports each year – some states mandate that you can get them for free once a year from the three reporting agencies. They are Experian, Equifax (800/685-1111) and are TransUnion (877/322-8228).

Check all the accounts for validity. Also, check your children’s. Another fast growing part of identity theft is stealing those of children. It’s the “perfect” crime b/c it will in most cases not be discovered until they are 18 and by then the damage could be extensive and irreversible.

I also suggest guarding your social security number with your life. Don’t carry your card. Don’t give out the number unless you ABSOLUTELY have to. Doctors don’t need it – I never put it down, the girls’, mine or J’s. Unless a company legally needs it or really has to access my credit score, I won’t give it out.

Invest in a good shredder. I shred anything and everything with our name and address. Of course I know there are some things that get through – like I can’t force others to shred my return address on envelopes. But I do what I can. I even tear labels off packages I received and shred them. I shred all junk mail with our names and address. I am so very careful when it comes to that stuff.

And I recommend looking into ID Theft insurance. It can be added on as a Rider to your Home Insurance policy. I don’t think it is that expensive. But check first with your policy – in January of 2006 (after all this happened to us), my home insurance company added ID Theft insurance to all their policies. So we now have it w/o needing an additional Rider. So we’re good if it happens again, but it’s too late for our costs incurred from this time. Let’s hope there is no next time.

After all that – I apologize for the lengthy post – we are glad this ordeal is finally over. Well, at least the part where we are waiting for her to be punished. We will forever have to look over our shoulders. We can’t let our guard down b/c she has his social security number memorized and she could have given it to anyone. But we have done the best we can to protect ourselves going forward. And we will do the best we can to protect the credit of our girls and the life we are trying to give them.

posted at 10:13 PM  

At 11:15 PM, Blogger ChupieandJ'smama said...

Holy crap! I'm sorry you had to go through all of this. I'm glad she got jail time and I'm glad things turned around for you guys. My parents were victims this year, and thanks to Chase it was caught before it got too far. They don't know who or how. Very scary stuff.

At 2:05 AM, Blogger Eye of the Rainbow said...

Wow that was a mind blowing post. What an eye opener!! Thank you for posting this, I am sorry you had to go through all of that. Thank you for sharing this.

At 9:29 PM, Blogger Carrie said...

I hope lots of people read this Sue. You could really make a difference with this post! I stupidly replied to a bogus email once and it cost me my password (that I had used for EVERYTHING) and set in motion what could have turned out to be a scary chain of events had I not caught the identity theft early and closed my accounts and got new cards.
I'm glad you can begin to put the whole mess behind you now that justice was served.

At 3:29 PM, Blogger Jill Norwood said...

Oh my goodness I am so sorry this happened to you and your family.

At 4:14 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

that is just awful! I'm so sorry to hear what's happened because of J's ex. I really don't understand when it's fraud, and proven to be fraud, why it should still reflect poorly on your credit...doesn't make sense to me that this should be on the credit reports for 7 years - it was no fault of your own!

You know this is something that irritates me with the military. There is all this talk about identity theft and how to do what you can to prevent. What is the biggest "no-no?" Like you mentioned- don't carry your SSN card with you. Well guess what? The military identifies everything by the sponsor's (active duty member) SSN. If you are the dependent than what is on your military id card? your sponsor's SSN, your SSN, plus your birth date. All the info one needs for identity theft. Yet we have to carry our ids with us anywhere we go because we need them for everything. If I go off base I need it with me to get back on base. Even on base I need it at the BX, Commissary, pharmacy, clinic appointments, library, etc. So frustrating that they put all that sensitive information on the id cards. Sorry. I didn't mean to make a rant on this in your comments!

At 2:44 PM, Blogger Carrie said...

I can't believe this happened to your family. I'm so sorry. I'm way to trusting, it makes me second guess if I should give my S.S. number out. Hope everything keeps going in the right direction and your credit gets better.

At 12:05 AM, Blogger Jennisa said...

Finally got to come over and read this. How horrible to happen to you and your husband, and how frustrating that the authorities didn't take it very seriously. You have opened my eyes....


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