Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Notaries and police reports -- the continuing joys of identity theft

My cheer that the thieves didn't entirely clean out my checking account proved premature. Another $700 went on Saturday -- after the card was supposedly cancelled. Arugh. The transactions seem to have come from an ATM in Quezon City. Fabulous.

I filed a police report, though I felt almost guilty adding to the NYPD workload with a crime they're not going to be able to do anything to solve. Financial identity-theft crimes are skyrocketing. While I waited to fill out the report, I chatted with a lady who was there to report a similar situation: someone had opened a DirecTV account in her name, and clearly had access to her Social Security number and other personal details. The detective who took my report said I was the seventh or eighth person that day reporting this type of crime.

It feels like the most effective way to stem crimes like the ATM scheme that keeps nailing me would be a national database overseen by a national agency, like the FBI. I'm 99% sure I got hit by a trapped ATM. If I did, then so did lots of others, but the only way to find the rogue ATM would be to cross-check the records of those hit recently. I would cheerfully turn over my bank records to an investigatory agency. (Sure, there's a risk in handing over my personal banking info -- but my account already leaks like a sieve. The chances of a bad cop stealing my info feel smaller than those of electronic thieves continuing to crack it.)

Since I doubt the police vigorously pursue these crimes, that leaves enforcement to the banks, which are the ones eating the losses. Big banks like Citibank already have the massive data access you'd need to cross-check the trails of victim -- I wonder to what extent that's already happening? The New York Times article I keep referring to about ATM fraud mentioned one crime ring that got caught after it began siphoning funds from 4,000 compromised accounts. It doesn't go into detail about how investigators cracked the case. That would be a fascinating piece ... if one has written one, I should check it out.

Once again, the most exasperating part of this process was making time to deal with all the paperwork like the police report. My bank also requires a notary to sign my dispute paperwork, so I spent an hour yesterday trudging around the Flatiron area looking for one. After stopping at two office-services shops and three banks, I finally found one available and willing. Arugh. That is my motto this week: Arugh.