Having your identity stolen is far more damaging than just losing money. I never realized how much of a tangled web finances and real life obligations where until I had to rebuild that web from scratch. When a thief cleared out my checking account from 5 different Bank of America branches using a fake ID, it basically turned my life upside down.

I learned the hard way. There are lots of things I could have, should have, and would have done better to avoid some of this mess. But I trusted the system and I did what I thought I was supposed to do. I had no idea that the system could fail me as hard as it did. Regardless, even the most paranoid person can be a victim. No amount of looking over your shoulder can guarantee that a really motivated criminal can’t screw up your life.

The Time Drain – You Pay for Other People’s Mistakes

The amount of work that you have to do to regain and protect your identity is a lot bigger than one might think. Get a new license. Close bank accounts. Open bank accounts. Contact all credit bureaus to freeze your credit and activate fraud alerts. Contact the FTC and report ID theft. Call here, email here, drive here, sign this, mail this, certified mail that, change all your accounts everywhere for everything. Update all your passwords and *remember* them. (for me, there are hundreds of those, I’m a web geek)

I found out the hard way just how bad customer service is in the US. When dealing Corporate America your work is basically tripled. Fixing this mess takes days, not minutes or hours.

Your Tangled Financial Web

Think about this for a minute. I have numerous mortgages, insurance policies, car payments, security systems, hosting, domains, financial products, water, electricity, phones, internet, cable, exterminator, HOA fees, etc etc. The list goes on. And almost every one of those bills has it’s own bill pay system. Initially I used my Bank of America Bill-Pay to consolidate all this mess, but after a few mishaps with the system causing late payments, I moved the automation to all the external systems. It’s a huge intertangled web. All of it was connected to my checking account in one way or another.

So when you shut down your bank account, the onus is on YOU to rebuild this web. Sometimes it’s hard to tell how big the web is until you step back an look at it. It’s probably bigger than a lot of people think. Add a new driver’s license to the mix, and things can get hairy. Some systems rely on old information to authenticate you, so updating your identity can also cause problems when moving accounts or changing your bank information.

Online Account Management- Managing to Waste Much More of Your Time Because it’s Free

Now let’s just look at the online portion of your new part time job. Common sense says, use a very esoteric password that would take a computer a zillion years to crack. Okay, that’s not hard. But some systems require at least one number and some don’t let you use numbers. Some require at least one special character and some don’t let you use special characters. Some force you to use exactly 8 digits. Some are 4 digit pins that can only be numeric. Some are email addresses (and I have like 50, including some old ones that are no longer active). Some require you to change them at intervals, and you can never repeat a previous password… So now you have a pile of user names and passwords. And there is no real secure way to have these stored except in your head.

Point is, just logging in to your online account management systems for various creditors and payees takes *HOURS* to accomplish. Then their systems that bury phone numbers and force you to use awkward FAQ sections that are never even close the what you are looking for. You’re spending an inordinate amount of time bouncing around a website, growing contempt for the company you’re trying to contact. You can tell they are trying to avoid you from picking up that phone and calling a CSR because those cost money.

The Phone System is a People Trap Manned by Robots and Degenerates

Now, if you’re lucky, you finally found a phone number on the website. Try calling that number to get to an actual person, and you wade through menu after menu of the same crap the website was trying to tell you. Recorded voices trying to prevent you from talking to a real person. Asking you to type in personal information, or God forbid your frikkin account number. Now, like a good identity theft victim should, you’re already shredding all your mail and trying to prevent any bills from ever hitting your mailbox anyways by going paperless. How the hell can I key in my account number if I can’t find it on the website and I shred all evidence that an account even exists? Some of them say “No account, no problem, just type in your Social security Number!” Uhm, yeah. I’m about to start typing my SSN now that I am completely paranoid about it.

Now, you finally figure out how to get to a person. (tip, always try hitting 0 when asked to key in stuff and you don’t want to) And you’re on hold. Forever.

Customer Service? More like Call Center Quota Service…

Usually after about 5-10 minutes of navigating through the phone system (provided it didn’t hang up on your or disconnect you by “mistake”) then maybe if you’re lucky you get to a real live person. Sometimes you get a really nice, pleasant, and somewhat sharp person who knows how to listen and is motivated to help, but that’s rare. Usually it’s a degenerate who wants to put you on hold to keep the phone call as long as possible so they hit their call center’s connect time quota. Or a degenerate who wants to push you off the phone as fast as possible to hit their call center’s call volume quota.

And in the worst case, you get a used care salesman who doesn’t care about your problem and is pushing you hard to buy something, to hit their call center’s sales quota.

There is No Such Thing as Privacy when You’re Just Another Number

In all, it has been an eye opener on many fronts. Corporations that handle your money for the most part don’t give a crap about you as an individual. Smaller companies tend to have people who are more in touch. A lot of people have access to the general public’s private personal information. A lot of people you don’t know have access to almost everything about you. There is no such thing as privacy. And customer service sucks across the board for the most part.

Now, I got a lot of feedback about missing work to take care of this stuff, but you know what? I have missed work already a couple of times because of it, and I am still not done cleaning up the mess. Identity theft is the gift that keeps on giving.

Who is at Fault?

As much as some people on Digg want to point out that I am at fault for some of this, it’s hard to hear that when information about you that is non-private is all a thief needs to walk into a bank and clean out your checking account. Now, I did lose my wallet… Or it was stolen. On that part I’m not sure. It’s not like the guy used my debit card. That was canceled immediately.

I did have a high balance in my checking account, but it was an interest bearing account which was just moved out of a CD for reasons I don’t feel I need to explain to the internet. I’m not irresponsible with my money or my identity. Sure, I could have taken more paranoid measures to try and lock it up, in retrospect I wish I did. But I don’t think I need to be any more paranoid than I already am, and if a theif can walk into a bank with a fake ID and take out 40k without any problems, then no amount of credit monitoring or home security would have helped. And I didn’t know you could put alerts on your accounts, I never thought I needed to. I trusted the bank’s system. I thought those kind of alerts were a given.

I have a home security system, and a home surveillance system. I own a gun, which comes with it’s own set of problems but still, it’s another type of home security. I don’t write my passwords down anywhere. I watch people closely. I’m not paranoid, but I am not mindlessly fumbling around in life waiting to become a victim. I thought I was doing what I was supposed do, but of course, now I’m much more vigilant about such things.

But the problem still remains. As long as the system is designed so that numerous people have easy access to your personal information and your money, you will *always* be relying on somebody else to protect them.

Also FYI- I was told from a person in the fraud department that I should be getting a call from Bank of America’s executive communications people. Stay tuned, I’ll post their response to the problems I encountered. I’ll also be posting the actions Bank of America has taken since the crime occured. Bank of America has already paid the claim, so I have my money back.