“I felt violated and victimized,â€ Harrine Freeman says of the day her purse was stolen from the passenger seat of her locked car at a Hyattsville, Maryland gas station in late July. No one at the busy corner station offered much information after the thief smashed a window and sped off with her house keys, checkbook, driver’s license, car insurance, vehicle registration, nearly $100 in cash, as well as her credit, ATM, and health insurance cards. “People were just looking at my car, but no one was saying anything,â€ Freeman says. “Later, the gas station clerk told me that the same thing happened to another woman the week before.â€
The car break-in led to a long battle against ID theft for Freeman. The Identity Theft Resource Center reports that nearly 10 million Americans were victims of identity theft in 2008, a number expected to grow due to the shrinking economy. On average, victims lose between $851 and $1,378 out of pocket due to expenses related to identity theft and spend an average of 116 hours repairing the damage. In total, Freeman estimates she spent $2,000 and 100 hours on damage control so far. Here, Freeman, author of How to Get Out of Debt (Adept Publishing; $19.95) and CEO and owner of H.E. Freeman Enterprises, a personal finance service, shares the frustrations and lessons learned during her still unsolved case of identity theft and offers tips to use should you find yourself a victim of identity fraud.
“Luckily I still had my cell phone and was able to call the police and cancel everything but my checking account, which I had to close in-person the next day though I was able to flag the account for suspicious activity,â€ Freeman says. She filed an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and placed fraud alerts with the credit reporting agencies, along with TeleCheck.
“I later filed complaints against my bank with the Better Business Bureau, the North Carolina Department of Justice Consumer Protection Agency as well as State of North Carolina Office of Commissioner of Banks where the bank is headquartered after I found out the thief was able to withdraw $3,000 from my new account even though you had to swipe a debit card and enter a secret code for every transaction,” she adds.Â “I’d already reported the potential for identity theft to the bank and found out a transaction for $1,200 was under investigation, but even knowing my situation, the bank still charged me $207 in insufficient funds fees.â€