LifeLock Identity Restoration Specialists have seen it all when it comes to identity theft. Here’s their advice for anyone wanting to step up their identity protection game.
Do you ever think about how your work affects the way you interact with the world?
What if you were a corporate accountant? Would you look at the world differently? Maybe you’d have very different views about investing money and doing your taxes at the end of the year.
Or what if you were a professional firefighter? Would you have more extinguishers in your home? Maybe you would refer to it as a “fire suppression system,” and you’d never leave the house without a set of safety tools and a first aid kit.
As it happens, LifeLock has our own team of accountant firefighters, of a kind. Called Identity Restoration Specialists, they are trained, seasoned professionals who know all the ins and outs of working with businesses and agencies to recover LifeLock members’ identities.
Think of them this way: when your identity is involved in a fraud, they’re the ones that swing into action on your behalf. They’re the ones that spend hours on hold. They’re the ones who call bank managers, credit card companies, business owners, utility companies, credit bureaus, and even the IRS.
Whether there’s been a fraudulent charge for $250 on your credit card, or if it’s been discovered that someone took out loans for hundreds of thousands of dollars across three different states while using your identity to sign up for utility services and file for unemployment—Restoration Specialists are the ones that go to bat for you to get things fixed. And these folks play in the big leagues.
Recently, we talked with a few of the LifeLock Restoration Specialists. The people we spoke to are equipped with decades of identity theft recovery experience, and we asked each of them one question.
“Beyond signing up for LifeLock, what’s the one piece of advice you would give to a total stranger to protect their identity?”
“Don’t trust that one financial institution alone has your back.”
Alice, a Restoration Specialist with seven years on the team, shared a particularly difficult case that she recently resolved. The case highlights how identity theft can go unnoticed and the challenges that can come when fraud reaches across multiple financial institutions.
“I had a student in Colorado who discovered he had $8,000 in debt on a credit card he never opened … but that was just the start,” Alice shared.
After Alice got the student’s paperwork in order, she contacted the credit card company’s fraud department to dispute the charge and have the account removed from their credit history. Unfortunately, the credit card company refused to close the account. Why?
“Because someone had made payments on the account … when payments are made, the credit card company considers that as accepting responsibility for the debt. That’s extremely difficult to get past.”
Frustrating? Sure. But this is where specialists start to shine. Alice got enough information from the credit card company to learn that all the payments to the account came from the same bank, a Credit Union in Georgia.
A quick phone call to the student confirmed that they had no such account, and a look into the billing information indicated that the same thief who opened the false credit card had also opened a bank account a few states away.
“We know how to connect directly, so I was on the phone with the bank’s VP of Fraud Prevention within an hour. He had never heard of this previously, because the account was in good standing. But, once he saw the real student’s information and the thief’s information, he agreed he was looking at identity fraud.”
The Bank VP provided LifeLock with a written notice that the account was closed and reported it as fraud. Alice then provided that notice back to the credit card company to demonstrate that the student had not made any payment and had not accepted responsibility for the debt.
The credit card company could see the whole picture. They closed the account and removed the record from the student’s credit reports.
“Always be conscious of who you’re talking to, and who’s listening.”
Walter came to the Restoration Specialist team after working as a money laundering investigator.
“Your information can be leaked in a variety of ways,” Walter shared, “but we see many cases where information was voluntarily given out—obviously accidentally or as part of a scam.”
Always maintain awareness about what you share over email or over the phone. Even when you’re emailing someone trustworthy or talking to someone you know personally, email accounts can be compromised, and public phone conversations can be overheard.
A good practice is, if there’s any doubt whatsoever about the security of the call, never give out any personal information. Good reminders that help with common phone scams:
- Never give out your information on a phone call you didn’t start, or on a number you’re not sure of.
- Your bank will never ask you to share your account number or your personal information over the phone.
- The IRS does not call, they send letters.
“I don’t even answer the phone if I don’t know the number,” Walter said.
“Set up fraud alerts with all three major credit bureaus.”
Jocelyn is a former teacher and one of the longest-serving specialists at LifeLock.
“I say this to anyone, even if they’re not LifeLock members,” Jocelyn said, “you can do it yourself, it’s free, and it’s pretty easy.”
While this bit of advice might seem obvious, the impact it can have is deeper than you might think. When you set up fraud alerts with all three credit bureaus, one single bureau could catch something that the other two might miss. In that case, the first bureau alerts the other two instantly. This sharing of information can prevent fraud that might otherwise go undetected, and all three bureaus have a record of potentially illegal activity. This makes resolving disputes much faster and easier.
“If you’re the victim of fraud, file a police report immediately.”
“There is very little any financial institution will do if you don’t have a police report,” Jocelyn shared.
Many people feel that involving the police may be too complicated, and law enforcement may not have the time or bandwidth to chase down a $500 charge. However, when a Restoration Specialist goes to work on behalf of their LifeLock member, a police report is one of their strongest assets. Credit card companies, banks, and businesses have to take notice when an official report has been filed.
The report is especially powerful when it comes to collection agencies. In some cases, fraudulent accounts might go undetected for years. If those accounts are in default long enough, the debt might be sold to a collection agency. Collection agencies can be much, much harder to deal with…and their agents might even go so far as to advise you to pay off the debt as the easier option than disputing the claim.
With a police report, Restoration Specialists can go to work with them on your behalf and save you the hassle of getting your life back.
“Never put your credit card in a gas pump.”
James, a Senior Restoration Specialist, shared one of the most unique bits of advice.
“I’ll never do it again,” James said, “because the bad guys don’t even use skimmers on the card slots any more. They can buy the keys to the gas pumps for a few bucks online and install the equipment that steals your card info on the inside of the pump. The people who work at the cash register don’t work with the people who maintain the pumps, so they get away with this a lot.”
“Hang on to your high school diploma.”
“I had a case where there was a fraudulent student loan taken out for a 60-year-old man,” Walter shared. “The thief had so much of his victim’s information right that the loan company refused to believe it wasn’t him. We finally had to get his High School diploma from his parents' storage unit to prove to the bank that it wasn’t him.”
"Check your credit report for accounts you don’t recognize – even if they’re in good standing.”
“I know this one seems obvious,” Janice said, “but people tend to think that if they don’t hear anything from the bank, everything must be fine.
“Then, when things go wrong, they can very sadly discover that something’s been going on for a lot longer than they realize. We’re seeing more of this on our side. A thief might open a credit card account in someone’s name, and that account will probably open with a really low credit limit.
“The thief will then make payments on the account for months, even years, driving the credit limit up until it gets to tens of thousands of dollars. Then they’ll max out the account and let it default. Only then does the victim get notified, or it goes to a collection agency, and resolving the issue becomes much harder.”
“I’m sad to say, this isn’t going away.”
If our interviews discovered nothing else, it revealed that LifeLock’s Identity Restoration Specialist team is a group of experienced, seasoned, passionate professionals. Every one of them expressed deep commitment and satisfaction from working and resolving cases for their members. And every one of them mentioned that things are getting worse.
“Criminals are getting smarter, and people need to protect themselves,” James said.
Of course, they recommend you sign up for LifeLock. Anyone can use the monitoring and protection LifeLock offers at its various levels. But regardless of the level, anyone should want it for this reason alone: if the worst should ever happen, there’s a team of pros ready to go to fight to get your credit and identity back.
Accountant firefighters, indeed.