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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.


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Las Vegas is many things for many people. For some, it’s a hedonistic paradise where anything and everything can happen. For others, it’s the ultimate destination for impromptu weddings, various types of entertainment, and anything else that can be experienced in Sin City. Things happening and staying in Vegas is typically considered a good thing — unless one of those instances involves your identity.

My experience with identity theft began there and ended a few years later, more than 2,000 miles away. One day, I lost my passport at a gas station. A few months later, things started popping up on my credit report that I did not initiate. I wasn’t exactly surprised. Upon moving to Vegas, one of the first few warnings I received included not to drink from the tap and to safeguard vital documents and information. It’s a transient town, and identity theft is very common. However, no one relayed how potentially damaging it could be should it happen. And happen it did.

Accidental Discovery

I moved to Las Vegas from the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area because of a job transfer. Up until that point, I’d spent most of my life in the nation’s capitol. The prospect of taking a job in a neon-lit city in the middle of the desert was exciting. Besides, at the time, I was a new, single mom to an infant son. I figured a change of pace and a fresh start couldn’t hurt. Our new life soon gained another member when my daughter was born two years later.

It was during the post-birth period that I became a ripe candidate for identity theft. The time after giving birth is exhausting. Bills still need to be paid, and errands still need to be run. One day, I ran to the store and forgot my driver’s license. Instead, I used my passport as ID. After shopping, I loaded the groceries into the car and drove home. I put the items away and went to put my passport back into the desk drawer. I didn't have it.

I quickly realized that I’d left it on the hood of the car at the grocery store. I darted back to the store parking lot, desperately looking for it. After an hour of searching, I conceded that I wasn’t going to find it. That pricey booklet that would allow me to fly to Europe someday was desert dust for me, but a stroke of luck for someone else.

Sometime later, I finally decided to open a new checking account. When I tried, I was denied. My credit wasn’t up to par. Now, I knew my credit wasn’t great, but I had no idea that it was that bad. Being turned down entitled me to a free credit report. Looking over it, I discovered that being broke and struggling didn’t cost me the chance at a new checking account. Someone using my identity had. Apparently, “I” lived in South Carolina, not Las Vegas. Applying for anything was red-flagged because I couldn’t be near the Mojave Desert and the Atlantic Ocean at the same time. Essentially, I was locked out of my own credit resources. However, due to situational poverty, a D.C., upbringing and a natural proclivity toward being questionable, I found a way around it, because my employer had provided me with prepaid debit cards when we moved two years earlier. These saving graces had not yet expired and gave me a temporary financial outlet.

In Hindsight

I’m not a huge fan of living under the punctured umbrella of regret. After all, I wouldn’t have two awesome kids and a lot of stories to tell if I dwelled there. However, after the credit cleanup and follow-up monitoring, there is one thing I would definitely change. I would never use my passport as backup identification. Losing a driver’s license isn’t great, but it’s a lot easier to replace. Obtaining a passport requires much more vetting, which means the information someone could get access to is a good deal more sensitive. When it comes to identity theft, sensitive information creates extreme vulnerability.

Ironically, my struggling economic status was more protective than damaging because there was virtually no way to open up any new credit accounts in my name.

Should the murky depths of identity theft ensnare you in their nefarious clutches, you do have options. Here are some ways to protect yourself if you become a victim of identity theft.

Stop, Freeze, and Release

Some credit reporting agencies offer an option to place a security freeze on your consumer account. This prevents any applications or inquiries from going through without your direct permission. In other words, for curious banks and credit agencies to completely check out your credentials, you have to give the final say-so. That must include an encoded cue that you create to verify it. If your specialized password isn’t entered, that application or inquiry is dead in the water. Once you feel that your identity is in the clear, you can lift the freeze and release the hold.

Beyond the Checks

Nowadays, the good news is that credit agencies are very hip to identity fraud. In fact, you can freeze your credit and create alerts that will tell you when new information or requests are processed. However, your best protection against identity theft is yourself. Don’t leave important documents lying around or susceptible to being lost. (Yes, I’m talking about myself.) Anything you throw away with sensitive information, get rid of properly. It wouldn’t be the worst idea to invest in a shredding machine. You can find inexpensive shredders at any department store. Never forget that what a would-be thieves can’t read, they probably can’t steal either.

To Catch a Thief?

If you are a victim of identity theft, take the time to report it to the authorities. Of course, everyone's case is different and unique, so it helps to check in with regional and federal agents for advice as how to be helpful in investigating this type of theft. More than likely, you are one of many — whether you’re in Vegas or not. After it happens, monitor your credit and banking history for a few years to make sure nothing new and unauthorized pops up. It's not a fun experience for sure, but you'll quickly learn from it. And after you do, wear your experience and preventive knowledge with pride. Pass it on to prevent future victims.

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