You Can Help Stem Identity Theft, Internet Fraud, & Eradicate Victimization in 2008

I am interrupting the Leadership Conundrum series for an important message.

Criminal offenses involving fraud are well documented as being the fastest growing type of crime in North America. Correlated directly to the increase with the popularity of methamphetamine possession and production, “meth-fraud” crimes include identity theft, counterfeit checks, and stolen/fraudulent use of credit cards. Source: Tuscon Police Department

What does this have to do with leadership and a Leadership Garden?

The Leadership Garden message I convey is to lead means guide and direct. You are the one and only true leader of your life. How you lead your life is a choice, and you are 100% responsible for that choice. Why? Because you are the only one truly leading your life. That is unless you allow others or circumstances lead it for you, or someone attempts to steal your unique identity.

Today's blog post is my story. It is a story about victimization, stolen identity, and a woman named Kathy who is my hero. Kathy demonstrates the very nature of my purpose in life: empowering extraordinary unstoppable leadership.

In late January, my husband and I had just returned from a fabulous 10th Anniversary celebration in Kauai. It was early morning and the phone rang. Kathy, an on-line vendor at a job posting site, was calling to help me complete my transaction. I had made no transaction, let alone had any idea what she was talking about. She suspected that.

Kathy informed me that someone, using my identity, had tried to post a job that morning and she had suspected fraud. The perpetrator registered in my name and when my card declined, made two other attempts using other victim's cards before it kicked them out of the system. When she tried to call the phone number they gave to assist "me," she learned it was a bogus number. Ironically, she traced me down through the Internet.

I jumped out of bed, looked in my purse, and had my business debit card in my possession. I went to my on-line bank account and sure enough Kathy was right. Someone had fraudulently used my name, business debit card number, and had overdrawn my account.

This led to a string of paperwork, reports to file, phone conversations to have, credit alerts to place, and account to change over the next several weeks.

Fortunately, the financial damage was minimal. I considered myself one of the fortunate victims. I had Kathy on my side. She took swift action and chose to help a customer complete a transaction, if there was an error (extraordinary customer service) and tracked me down (unstoppable leadership) when she suspected fraud.

Why is that extraordinary and unstoppable leadership? Read on . . . . 

After I alerted the bank, closed the account, and opened a new account, the bank assured me they would cover any loses and investigate. That is the end of story for many people.

It wasn't the end for me. I was curious just how they got my information and I wanted to know how much of my identity they had. I knew that bank wasn't going to investigate that angle and it was up to me to find out. I also believe there are lessons that can be learned in every unfortunate situation. Usually I find there is something I stepped over, didn't know, or didn't see in my own operation.

As citizen, business owner, and author with an active imagination, I put on my Sherlock Holmes Cap to see what I would discover. At minimum, I wanted to learn what I could do to increase my security measures to protect myself and the people who do business with me on-line.

I began calling the other vendors to find out about the transactions. Some were helpful and others complacent. When a debited transaction declined, they credited back the account; it was routine to them.

Discovery #1 - I found complacency about this issue was more prevalent than I suspected.

I was suspicious of the purchases - men's underwear, men's shoes, a foreign airline ticket, attempted job posts on two different sites, and attempts to buy merchandise on a professional photo equipment website. Hmmmm! Now my imagination was running wild.

I called Kathy back several days later to thank her for being so alert. If figured since she alerted me in the first place, she might give me more information about the exact information they used with my identity. I was also curious how as to how a job post on-line might relate to the case.

She informed me job posting is one way on-line fraud artists get personal information for more identity theft. Her company has a policy to verify the legitimacy of each job post, with the registered business, to ensure this doesn't happen. Had I actually registered on the site, we would have gone through a verification process.

I haven't ever posted jobs or looked for jobs on-line, so that was new information to me.

Discovery #2 - Before you apply for a job on-line and provide any personal information about yourself, check the policy of job site to ensure they verify the businesses registering and the job post is legitimate.

Back to the suspicious charges. The complacency I found after talking with so many people was disturbing to me. I was told it is likely the bank will just write it off, since the amount is small. I was told it is almost impossible to trace the source of how they obtained my information. The more I learned the more concerned I became that it would be thoroughly investigated?

So I kept searching. I now knew what they purchased and where the merchandise was being shipped and received. The perpetrator used the same name and shipping address with three on-line vendors, using my name, my debit card, and my billing address. Who will listen, who will pay attention now?

The FBI I thought, but why? At first, I feared they would think I was over reacting about such an every day event. Besides, I hadn't suffered any serious monetary damage at this point. Understandably and unfortunately, I learned the bigger amount, the more attention the case would get. But that didn't deter me, they had used my identity. So how could I share what I knew with the FBI?

Discovery #3 - I searched their site on Internet and was routed to the Internet Crime Compliant Center (IC3).

IC3 is a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). IC3's mission is to serve as a vehicle to receive, develop, and refer criminal complaints regarding the rapidly expanding arena of cyber crime. The IC3 gives the victims of cyber crime a convenient and easy-to-use reporting mechanism that alerts authorities of suspected criminal or civil violations. Source: Internet Crime Compliant Center (IC3).

I filed my complaint and received a complaint case number. Now someone will investigate, I thought. But how will I know? The response letter informed me the IC3 receives thousands of complaints each month and does not have the resources to respond to inquires regarding the status of complaints. They'll forward the information, once reviewed, to the appropriate authorities and jurisdictions. Ultimately, investigation and prosecution are at the discretion of the receiving agencies.

Wow, that could take months or years, and I may never know what happened. But at least, the process was started and I had done my part.

End of story, not quite yet  . . . .

Discovery #4 - Evidence is important. It was recommended in my IC3 response letter to keep canceled checks, credit card receipts, phone bills, mailing envelopes, mail receipts, and printed copy of a website, copes of emails, or similar items. I'd also add, document all conversation you have regarding the fraudulent transactions; who you spoke with, the information they provided, and the date of the conversation.

At this point, it was time to move on and get caught up on my other work. The next several weeks were busy, but this situation remained in the back of my mind. I kept thinking how easy it is to feel violated, insecure, and lost in the system when your identity is stolen. And what a massive drain on of energy, time, and money for all involved.

It made me wonder . . . is this the reason I encountered so much complacency when speaking with people during my own investigation? The authorities must be inundated with citizen complaints or it wouldn't be the fastest growing crime in North American. Obviously, they can't keep up.

In my book, U.N.I.Q.U.E.: Growing the Leader Within, I write about six leader-friendly gardening practices, one of which is to eliminate victimization . . . . Just maybe the reason this happened to me is to learn first hand how to help others deal with their own victimization; not necessarily solve my case.

So I took off my Sherlock Holmes Cap and put back on my Leadership Garden Coach Hat. During this process, I found there was a distinct difference between being victimized, and playing the role of the victim. It was my identity that was being used. I could be responsible to protect myself, my customers, and share with my readers what I had learn. I could use this as an opportunity to grow, learn, and teach.

I found this thought more empowering than leaving it entirely in the hands of someone else to protect me; which would leave me feeling more victimized, vulnerable, helpless, and insecure.

I knew from the past that when I felt most victimized most, in any situation I encountered, was when my Leadership Garden was in a survival condition. And when this situation first occurred I definitely felt a need to survive. I also knew that when I shifted my thinking to a thriving condition, an inner power would emerge and new opportunities would occur.

It wasn't about fighting back and catching the crooks, but informing others about what I had learned. And consistent with the title of my book, no one should be allowed to mess with anyone's U.N.I.Q.U.E. identity. I had been so focused on the potential danger and protecting myself, I was even having trouble returning to my work.

The day I sat down to get back to blogging, the thought occurred. The human mind created the power of this amazing technology that is transforming our world that leaves us vulnerable to these attacks. On the other hand, the Internet is a great equalizer of knowledge. Knowledge translates to power and Internet levels the playing field between good and harm for each individual who uses it.

But even more powerful is the human spirit to do good and make a difference. That is what unique extraordinary unstoppable leadership is about to me.

Fear, resignation, cynicism, and complacency lead to helplessness and victimization and the eventual loss of inner power that dampens the human spirit. No victim of any crime or act, needs to be left powerless and helpless, ever. Not when the power of the Internet and the human spirit combine.

So I put back on my Sherlock Holmes Cap and made one more phone call, I hadn't thought of yet, and finally found someone truly interested in investigating the case. I won't divulge any more information to ensure I don't impede the authority's ability to apprehend and prosecute the criminals. But now that I was confident that someone is actually investigating the case, it freed me to get back to my business at hand.

Discovery #5 - I found one more piece of information that takes you straight to the The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) link designed to specifically to help consumers for free.The FTC has a section entitled Deter-Detect-Defend: Avoid ID Theft. And just Saturday I got a brochure of the same name with from the US Postmaster. This indicates to me that the government agencies are doing there part to stem this crime, now it is up to us to do our part. 

While searching the FTC site I noticed the latest release on the subject.

For Release: February 13, 2008

FTC Releases List of Top Consumer Fraud Complaints in 2007

The FTC today released the list of top consumer fraud complaints received by the agency in 2007. The list, contained in the publication “Consumer Fraud and Identity Theft Complaint Data January-December 2007,” showed that for the seventh year in a row, identity theft is the number one consumer complaint category. Of 813,899 total complaints received in 2007, 258,427 32 percent were related to identity theft. To read the full release . . .

There at least 258,427 other victims who took the first step to stem this crime by reporting their complaint to the FTC.

In my view, what is needed most are informed and responsible citizen leaders banding together, to knock "identity theft" out of the top spot in 2008, through the positive power of the Internet Blogosphere. So this in my part small part in making that happen.

Of course the opposite could occur; with increased awareness of the crime is also increased reporting - but don't stop there. Safeguard yourself, document your case, learn all that you can, and keep at it; after all it is your unique identity at stake and no one has a more personal investment and responsibility than you do.

Please share this story to help tap the collective heart, mind, and spirit of citizen leaders to stem this crime and eliminate victimization in 2008.

And I'll update my blog and my own case as I learn more.


Debra J. Slover