First Person: Bouncing Back After Identity Theft

It couldn't come at a worst time. I was being transferred to California so things were in frenzy. I answered my office phone. The caller was from American Express. She informed me my account was six months overdue and I needed to make arrangements to pay off the $4,000 balance. "I never had American Express card", I said, then immediately came the realization someone had stolen my identity.

Stealing my Mail

Until that call, I never noticed that some of my mail was unaccounted for; I wasn't receiving my credit card bills. It was also peculiar that my mail would be left on top of the mailbox instead of placed in the secure lockbox.

I reported the theft to the local post office. The Postmaster informed me this was a federal offense and they would investigate. Nothing happened. My credit card statements still never came.

I reported the mail carrier. The response from the Postmaster was they were monitoring his performance. My mail continued to be placed outside the lockbox.

I changed my address and transferred my mail to another post office in a different area. Within weeks I was receiving all the missing mail. Was the postal carrier involved in stealing my identity?

When I reported the theft to Police Department, the desk clerk refused to take my report stating that it was not a criminal matter. I informed him I would need a report to give to my credit card companies validating that a theft had occurred. He still refused and l left the police station without a report.

Verifying my employment over the phone

My company's policy was to never verify employment over the phone. Any employment verification request had to be in writing. The personnel department failed to do this in my case, so the identity theft could apply for several credit lines in my name without me ever knowing about the companies.

I told the personnel department I needed to be aware of any request.

My Bank

After notifying the banks within the first week of discovery, they closed all my bank accounts. Apparently the thief had stolen check account numbers and tried to cash some phony checks in New York. I gave my bank my new address and instructed the bank manager written checks must match my signature card.

Credit Card Companies

The thieves (I believe there were more than one) racked up over $30,000 in bogus charges. The burden of proof was on me to prove those charges were fraudulent. It took four horrendous years.

Being a former credit manager for a bank, I knew that credit companies once notified of a fraud must remove all charges from your credit bureaus pending an investigation.

American Express decided that $4,000 was fraudulent. However, within months the thieves opened another account with American Express in my name. I called American Express office to inform them this shouldn't have occurred since I had already written them about the identity problem. They closed it.

The thieves had my social security number. I contacted the three major credit bureaus, instructed them to tag my account warning of possible identity theft and to contact me directly.

Contacting the credit card companies with the smaller amounts proved easy. They were extremely helpful. They removed the charges I identified as fraud. I also closed the accounts.

First Card from Bank One became the most difficult. They were owed over $20,000 and were reluctant to consider it fraud. After years of fighting, it took a letter to the Federal Trade Commission. Bank One was resigned to finally write off the loss and removed any negative report from my credit.

Check your Credit Annually

It's free. It's the law. Review the reports and challenge any charges that look strange.

Check your credit and bank statements online

My wife checks our credit and bank statements online to not only ensure there are not unexpected charges.

Shred all important documents

Identity thieves love going through your trash. Shred old credit cards, bank cards, checking statements be diligent about making sure no personal numbers can be discovered by anyone.

Be careful what information you give over the Internet

Personal information even on a secure server can be hacked. Monitor your expenses when dealing with purchasing products over the web. Make sure there are no additional expenses.

Having identity stolen is no picnic. It's a headache. I now have excellence credit and I plan on keeping it that way.

*Note: This was written by a Yahoo! contributor. Do you have a personal finance story that you'd like to share? Sign up with the Yahoo! Contributor Network to start publishing your own finance articles.