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Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.

Slide background

Learn from the first-hand experiences of others.


person found Donna's experience helpful.

Did you?

In 2006, an accident on a farm left me disabled to the point where Social Security Disability was the only income to rely on. I decided to enroll in an online university to earn a bachelor degree to re-enter the workforce.

I chose a major university that I had seen advertised on television, an online program that I could do from home. I thought it was the perfect plan.

The Situation

About a year into my AAHCA (Associate of Arts in Health Care Administration) program, I began getting calls from creditors for overdue accounts and missed payments for items I did not buy. I was completely devastated when I reviewed my credit report and saw that my credit score had dropped over 100 points in one year. After contacting all the creditors, I realized that my Social Security number and my identity had been stolen.

Shortly thereafter, I received a letter from school letting me know that $17,500 worth of loans that I had taken out had been disbursed. I didn’t take out these loans, nor did I ever see a dime from them. The school previously had received the necessary funding for my entire degree program. So this is when it all started...the theft of my identity by a financial adviser at a well-known online university.

Problems and Issues I Encountered

I immediately filed a claim with the university’s financial dispute office, a business complaint bureau, and my state's attorney general's office. To my surprise, I found that the school was already under investigation for similar dealings with other students on financial aid. They were being sued for fraud and identity theft.

I was frustrated at the amount of time the school took to investigate the situation. It did not even acknowledge the representatives of agencies investigating it. The confusing paperwork became a joke. I was tired of the harassing phone calls and the school's lack of acknowledgement of the issue - this was theft!

At this point, I became so distraught I could not focus on coursework and decided to quit until the situation was rectified. This was a difficult decision for me. It made me sick to think the university that I was attending let this happen to me, by a trusted school employee. My identity had been stolen and used to take out a loan, buy a cell phone, men's clothing, and jewelry.

I knew exactly how much my loans were. I did not take out these loans and refused to pay them back. I worked with the lender to remove the $17,500 from my account and hired an attorney to take on each creditor, slowly restoring my credit.

What I Would Do Differently

I think my first mistake was to enroll at a university that I saw on TV without checking it out thoroughly. Furthermore, I will never give my personal information over the phone again, to anyone! I do not give out any information over the Internet or phone or answer suspicious e-mails asking for personal information.

If I could go back, I would have not fallen for that smooth voice on the other end of the phone (he received a commission for enrolling me) or given my Social Security number, birth certificate, and other identity information.

I should have paid more attention to my credit score; immediately after the first letter, I should have contacted the creditors instead of ignoring them. Your credit score is a lifeline to owning assets and securing a financial future; it is not just a number.

My Advice To Others

This situation taught me a few valuable lessons that I often share with others. For one, never give out any personal information over the phone, through an e-mail or in a letter, unless you are positive the one asking is a trusted entity or person.

Secondly, research the online college or university you want to attend. A lot of them have complaints and active litigation or have been fined for fraud. Make sure there are no reports at the Better Business Bureau or at your state or local agencies.

Finally, if you do become a victim of identity theft, I recommend hiring an attorney listed with state agencies to help victims of identity theft. Write letters to creditors explaining your situation and providing them with the contact information for your attorney. The creditors then contact the attorney and together they resolve the accounts. The attorney will provide the proof that creditors need to be assured you are a victim of identity theft. You can recover from identity theft, but it is best to have legal help to ensure that all issues are resolved.

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