From The Straits Times    |

29 year-old finance executive Renee Tan had one of the most emotionally and physically exhausting experiences ever.

The Singapore woman had her identity stolen and she went through stressful months “to clear my name with the credit card companies, Credit Bureau (Singapore) and the banks.”

Don’t leave your credit cards around in plain sight; you could
become a victim of identity theft. Image: Corbis

A SINGAPORE WOMAN’S TRAUMATISING EXPERIENCE
Renee found out only two years after the incident when she’d tried to apply for new credit cards and renovation loans. She was told that she’d existing existing accounts with two financial institutions; despite the fact that she’d only one credit card her entire life.

Although a police investigation was taking place, Renee was unable to get credit from other banks for many months because her “credit report was so messy”. The timing made the situation even more frustrating: Renee was in the middle of her wedding preparations.

She discovered the culprit only by chance; her colleague had stolen Renee’s identity to apply for loans under Renee’s name. Her colleague saw her credit card and noticed Renee’s name on it. “When I confronted her, she broke down and admitted what she’d done”, says Renee.

Renee’s colleague confessed to taking a photocopy of her IC when Renee was away from her desk. As they were close, no one suspected a thing when her colleague was loitering around Renee’s desk. She also figured out how to forge Renee’s signature by examining Renee’s credit card. The whole incident had cost Renee a lot of money and time. She “lost a friend and resigned from my job shortly after”. Worst of all was the emotional toll that the incident had created: Renee was “so depressed and drained”.

Now, Renee has become quite paranoid about her wallet and cards. She was advised by the CBS to sign up for the My Credit Monitor service so that “I’ll know if someone tries to apply for credit using my name”. Even then, it will take a while until her life is back to normal. Her credit report is down the drain and she is unable to get a job because of what happened.

ARE YOU A VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT TOO?
According to Robert Siciliano, a Boston-based Mcafee consultant and identity theft expert, if you are denied credit or if you check your credit report and see unauthorised accounts opened in your name, it could be that someone has used your details to open an account.

The Credit Bureau (Singapore) says to look out for the following clues:

  • You fail to receive your bills or other mail. An identity thief may have taken over your account and changed your billing address to cover his tracks.
  • You’re receiving credit cards you did not apply for. As with Renee’s case, you should act immediately and check with the banks as soon as possible.
  • Getting calls or letters from debt collectors or businesses about merchandise or services which you didn’t authorise.

WHAT CAN YOU DO?
If you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft, make a police report and contact your credit issuer so you can cancel these opened accounts, says Robert. Then, take steps to reduce your risk – but know that no one is safe from identity theft as there is no such thing as 100 per cent security. Here’s what you can do:

  • Invest in computer software: Using credit cards on websites is relatively secure but do invest in computer software, like Mcafee Total Protection, to protect your PC and the data on it.
  • Shred important documents: Remember to shred old bills, statements and documents before disposing of them.
  • Pay attention to your credit reports and monthly statements for irregularities.
  • Sign up for an identity theft protection service: This service monitors your credit and the internet for your information. Protection must also include fraud resolution agents to clean up a stolen identity.

Protect yourself further by subscribing to My Credit Monitor (MCM), offered by Credit Bureau (Singapore). It allows you to examine the accuracy of your credit report, as well as protect you from and warn you of potential ID theft and credit card fraud cases. You can subscribe at www.creditbureau.com with your Singpass. A one-year subscription costs $35.

This article was originally published in SimplyHer April 2011.