I don’t exist anymore. What to do if it happens to you.

Posted: January 7, 2010 in Blogging, blogroll, Community, Consumer Issues, Credit, education, Finance For Youth, Financial Institutions, Life
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That’s me.  Or rather that was me when I still existed.  Now, I am persona non grata.  Last week, I left my wallet at an ATM machine, with pretty much everything in it.  Having never been through this before, I was at a loss as to how to proceed. 

I made the mistake of having my Social Security card, my Driver’s Licence, my credit and debit cards, my AAA card, and my medical insurance cards all disappear.  Here’s what happened.  I was making a deposit at a credit union ATM inside my grocery store, and I noticed something odd about my balance when I got my receipt.  This distraction was enough for me to turn and walk away, forgetting that I had my wallet on the top of the machine.

Hours later, I realized that my wallet was missing.  I contacted the store, hoping someone had turned in my card.  No luck.  But they said that the Credit Union might have my wallet since they were technically a different company altogether.  So I had to wait until Monday when the Credit Union reopened.  I kept monitoring my credit and debit cards to make sure there was no usage.  When I got to the Credit Union, I was sure they would have it.  No dice.  I was starting to get a little worried.

Having worked in many institutions, I am aware of the security they have at and around the ATM’s.  I went back to the store and asked, hoping against hope, that they would be able to look at the surveillance video and see whoever picked up my wallet.  That’s when I was told that the store didn’t have any cameras pointing at the big enclosure with all the money in it!  I feel so much safer knowing that they watch to make sure I don’t eat a grape from the produce aisle, but could care less whether there was a problem with the money-bin.

So then I go to the credit union, to ask if they can look at their video.  I know that all machines have a camera inside that sees everyone that goes to the ATM.  They also have cameras looking at the inside and outside of the branch.  I figured they would have been able to see something that would be helpful.  Let’s just say that they were less than useful and the realization that all of my ID was now in someone else’s hands.  I no longer existed!

A couple of lessons can be learned here.

  • Never carry your Social Security card with you unless you are going to use it immediately!

    • I was carrying mine because I had been going on some job interviews and I needed my Social Security card to fill out the government i-9 form.  I got lazy and didn’t put it away like I should have.
    • While your Social Security number is really nothing more than your bank account number with the federal government, because this number is unique to only you, it has become a sort of de facto identification.  In fact, combined with your name and some other information that is easily attainable, one could steal someone else’s identity.
  • Never carry more than you really need to in your wallet.

    • This was another place where I screwed up.  Because we were just coming off the holidays, I still had credit cards that I wouldn’t necessarily have with me.  Now, I have to get these replaced, and I am without credit while I wait for new cards.  According to economic theory, since I’m not spending money, I don’t exist.
  • Keep up-to-date on your stuff!

    • This is one where I did well!  I know what cards I have, and I keep up-to-date with them.  As soon as I realized I didn’t have my cards, I was able to verify that they hadn’t been used, and I was able to cancel them without any liability.

Of course, for this to work, you really have to also:

  • Know what stuff you have!

So, hindsight being what it is, this is a minor inconvenience for a short term.  But the important question is what to do to make sure this process doesn’t happen or if it does happen, you are able to go through it simply.

Aside from not keeping more than necessary, and of course, not leaving your wallet on top of the ATM, there is some prep work you can do.

  1. Take a photo copy of all of your cards, and of all the permanent contents of your wallet.  Front and back.  Put this copy in a safe place.
    1. In addition to having a record, let’s say that your house catches fire, floods, is hit by a hurricane, a typhoon, a tornado, an earthquake, or is robbed while you are out, or you are mugged!  A really bad day becomes a little less bad because you have a copy of all your stuff.  You have the account numbers, the company names, and most importantly, a phone number to call to cancel everything. 
    2. I suggest getting a small, fire-proof box for this and other important stuff.  Some people go to their bank and get a safe deposit box for this purpose.  You could even put these copies in a secure online location, where you can access it when you need to.
      1. Be careful if you choose the last method.  You have to make sure that your information is secure, and not out on the web where anybody can access it.
  2. Don’t keep anything in your wallet that is truly irreplaceable.  If you have a picture or something that is truly unique, get a copy of it if you must carry it.
  3. Don’t write down PIN numbers down, and especially don’t put those written PIN numbers in your wallet or where the cards are.

Getting my credit cards replaced was the easiest piece of the puzzle.  Of course, my credit card company wants me to spend their money, so they will do whatever it takes to make that easier for me.  Getting my Driver’s Licence was not quite so fun.

I got there early in the morning, and there was already a line wrapped around the building.  Some would say, “make an appointment”, and ordinarily they would be right.  But when you are without a Driver’s Licence, but still need to drive, this isn’t always an option.  I wound up waiting till 4:00.

There was a lesson here in patience.  When I was waiting outside the DMV to order a new licence, with the same picture and information, I saw the future.  I can only imagine that this is going to be a precursor to what we will see at hospitals around the country in the next few years.

The hardest is getting a new Social Security card.  As a victim of identity theft already, I know that this has long legs.  My number is out there now, and I can’t undo that.

What you have to do in these cases is to be active.  Once a year, go to Annual Credit Report.com (www.annualcreditreport.com) and take a look at your credit report for anything that seems hinky.  Also, examine the pamphlet sent out by the Social Security Administration that talks about your benefits.  If their numbers don’t add up to where they should be, this is a good indication that you are a victim.

Someday, I can only hope to exist again.  If I do, I’m pretty sure I’ve learned not to get careless just because I know how to fix the problem.  Fixing something that is avoidable sucks.

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  2. Mike Kang says:

    Some great tips thanks for sharing such a horrible experience. I know we’ll all learn something from it.

    Have you considered putting a freeze on your credit reports? (http://www.experian.com/consumer/security_freeze.html – All 3 reporting agencies offer them). It will make it near impossible for anyone including yourself to open any new lines of credit without jumping through a lot of hoops. Unfortunately, if you do this, any potential employers who want to do a background check will also run into problems, so if you implement the freeze you will want them to know ahead of time.

    Good luck.

  3. MoneyEnergy says:

    Thanks for the post! Great reminders – glad you had all that info written down and were able to cancel them. I don’t carry my SSN with me, either. Nor my birth certificate – aren’t those the hardest to replace?

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