ID Theft: Briefcase Threatens Identity

'All My Personal Electronics And Papers Were Stolen.'
It seemed like a good idea at the time. Instead of bringing his briefcase inside his gym, where it might get stolen out of the locker room, Chip left it locked in his car.

Then he came back and found his car window smashed, the briefcase gone - and with it his laptop, cell phone, tax papers and key business information. Essentially, his life got stolen from the back seat of his car.

In this True Story, learn how Chip:

  • Took immediate steps to protect his identity;
  • Educated himself about the risks of Identity Theft;
  • Applies lessons-learned to his life today.

TOM FIELD: Hi, this is Tom Field with Information Security Media Group. I'm here to give you another true story of someone who has battled identity theft. We're talking today with Chip, and Chip is going to give us sort of a cautionary tale of what happened to him some time ago. Chip, how are you? And thanks for joining me today.

CHIP: Hi, Tom. Pleasure being with you. Appreciate the interview and glad to share my story.

FIELD: Chip, tell me exactly what happened. I know you had a specific incident that just would have scared the life out of anybody. What was it that happened to you?

CHIP: Absolutely, I had actually come back from work on a typical day and attended a gym. I was just going for a normal workout routine, and not really at the threat - having it conscious in my mind that I might be faced with any kind of theft or identity theft at that time. I had simply placed my briefcase in the back of my car, and not in my trunk. It was somewhere out in the open, and at that point went into the gym thinking that I'd done the right thing because I didn't want to bring my briefcase containing all of my personal documentation into the gym and put it into a locker with a lock that could be cut ... However, I thought the area that I was in would be a safe haven for my personal property within my car. At that point I had done a typical workout, returned back to my car maybe an hour or so later and found my window to be smashed. At that point, I kind of put two and two together and didn't expect to find my briefcase and all the contents in it in the backseat. I quickly realized that that was the case, and what I had had in the contents of my briefcase, which was gone, were really all of my pertinent information. I had my laptop, which was brand new. I had just purchased it, and I had transferred all of my information, personal information, pictures, photographs, anything I had written from years ago into, also some of my current business information. And given that it was tax season, I also had a lot of my receipts and forms that I had sent over to my accountant in addition to both business and personal for that matter. In addition to normal things like checks, passport information, some business credit cards that were in the briefcase as well as cell phone, PDA. So all of my networking information and personal information was in there, in addition to some of that of my family and friends. So it was a pretty big scare for me at that point because I realized, you know, "Oh my, all that info is gone in the hands of someone else."

FIELD: So pretty much your life got stolen out of the back of your car that day.

CHIP: Right, right, that's exactly how it felt. Yep.

FIELD: Chip, what did you do?

CHIP: First thing I did was kind of just sit back and evaluate what were probably the first things the thieves would go to and use. Obviously, the electronics are of value so I figured, you know, maybe their intent was just to sell those items right away. But given the fact that my credit card information, my personal information, was in there the first thing I did was call the police and let them know right away that I had a break-in into my car and the bag was missing. At that point, before the police had actually arrived I had called my bank - my banks, the institutions - just given the 1-800 numbers or I guess I did have 411 and found out the numbers to contact to place a report with them just saying, "You know, if you could put an alert on my account to keep a heads up that my information had been stolen," and I would need to cancel those cards, and if they could reissue me new ATM cards, or credit cards, that I would greatly appreciate that. That was the - those were the first two steps and after that - after that point just literally sitting in the parking lot waiting for the police to arrive. The next thing I did was explain the whole incident to the police officer and make a written report citing all that had been stolen and try to give a value to all that information. So,, obviously, that personal information is, you know, something that if you don't have backed up it's priceless - things like obituaries or things that I had written from my grandparent's funeral, pictures that I had taken, things like that I'll never get back, and I knew that, but the value of the actual dollar amount of those electronic items was something that I quickly came to the sum of probably around $4,000.00. And I just made that in the statement and tried to include everything in that police report that I thought was in my briefcase. So I just did a brief scan in terms of everything that I had usually kept in my briefcase, and then also, given that it was tax season, all those important documents that I thought were in there as well.

TOM FIELD: So Chip, you lost everything. I assume none of this has ever been recovered.

CHIP: Actually, ironically, the next thing I did was I went to the police station and had a formal document written and spoke with the detective and reached out to IBM given that it was a new consumer brand laptop. I thought that would be the most valuable thing to do right away. And a few weeks later, what had happened was a gentleman in the area who ran a business found the briefcase. This was after it had rained a few days and a lot of the information was destroyed on paper, but found the briefcase with a lot of the documentation that was in it originally. However, all of - as I assumed - all of the electronics were gone. So I was very fortunate to receive a lot of my notes pending a lot of my clients and current initiatives that were there, but I did lose, again, everything that was digitally archived, and, again, the cell phone was gone so all of my important numbers - PDA's with everything from to-dos to important PDF documents that were saved on there in addition to any pictures or anything like that that was on my laptop of personal value.

FIELD: So, Chip, you were pretty wise to the threat of identity theft at that point, right?

CHIP: Correct, correct. I certainly hadn't done the full research that I have now in terms of, you know; I guess its $85 million a year and $6,000.00 per person that typically goes on identity theft. And of course all the settlement time that you have to deal with the credit card companies and things like that. But at that point I was savvy enough to know that I had to take necessary cautions to protect myself, but I didn't really know where to go. It's not something that you think about all the time, so I figured there were institutions I had to contact and that was the next research that I did in the following days to reach out to companies like TransUnion and Equifax -- the credit bureaus to make sure that they knew that my info was taken, and immediately I put an alert with them, which is something like, I guess, $10.00 a month for TransUnion, where they were able to just basically remind me or send me an alert or formal letter every time any bank account was opened. For example, I started a new bank account with a brand new bank, and I made that my personal account, and then I started doing all of my additional payments for bills and things like that under that account for a given six months, so that I wasn't using my existing accounts even though I had already transferred over that information. And then I looked into other resources, for example, that I had heard about where you can pay to basically to protect your identity in the event that - they'll do all that type of work for you, I think, in terms of TransUnion and some of the necessary reporting in the event you think you might be susceptible to identity theft, and they have an insurance policy in place. However, I actually did not follow through with doing that. I think I covered a lot of bases myself before that time - before I found out about Lifelock - to kind of put those necessary steps in place with the credit bureaus and with my credit card companies in particular.

FIELD: The good news is you had good instincts because it seems like you did all the right things at the right times just to sort of stop this before it could explode.

CHIP: Yeah, I tried. At this point I still haven't - it becomes a tedious process to really maintain your bills more than you would normally so, you know, I look through my credit statements whether they're online or if it's something I receive actually tangibly in the mail to see if there's even one dollar transactions from account to account where I don't remember being in a state or an online purchase that I might not have made where that might be present. But at this time, I think I've managed to review my material enough that I would have caught suspicious purchases. But again, even with the laptop, for example, I reached out to IBM and let them know, and with electronic pieces in particular which are so crucial to everyday use and really just personal information, I wanted to make sure that if that laptop was ever sold on the black market or eBay or anything like that that they would require that social security number and that particular product model number, so that I would have a report of that or at least hopefully they could catch the criminal in the act.

FIELD: That's great, but how long has it been to this point?

CHIP: It was back in - about a year ago.

FIELD: So it's been nearly a year and, knock on wood, there have been no breaches of your identity.

CHIP: Right, hopefully.

FIELD: So, Chip, lessons learned from this. What sort of a change - what you do and what advice do you give to family and friends now based on what you've gone through?

CHIP: Well, I guess another step that I took was I really realized that all of my family's info and my friends information were in, you know, even the cell phone - their cell phone numbers of some important contacts that I have, whether it's business or personal. I just let my friends and family know that my info had been stolen. I even posted on such things like social networks and Facebook and things like that and just said, "You know, hey, I'm without pictures anymore, so if you have any pictures of me let me know because that info was stolen," and, you know, people kind of got the idea that some of that information might be in there. So, of course, I reached out to clients and let them know. I reached out to family and friends and let them know, especially any shared accounts that I might have had in the finance world, and quickly acted to move that info elsewhere and change those accounts. One bit of advice is, for people that, you know, do have a fear with identity theft, I do think that services like Lifelock are a good idea and certainly an interesting concept and business model. A lot of what's out there can be found. For example, I just received a letter from I believe it was the postmaster of the postal service saying, you know, identity theft is a big issue. We're looking to do everything that we can about it, and that was something I greatly appreciated because I see that it's a conscious effort that they're taking to address all identify theft, and a lot of which I think takes place online be it through phishing or people receiving emails that might not be truly from the source they're saying they are where they say, "Look, your account on eBay or Pay Pal is not working. We need you to log in, give us your information, and we'll send you a quick email back saying that you're updated." Well, I've just learned that a lot of those are the hoaxes that we all receive, so I've done necessary steps to use email providers that I think do a good job of blocking against phishing and scam of those emails and really just mass-mailing things of potential predators. The other necessary steps that I think I've really learned from are, you know, I've bought an external hard drive now that I use to back up all of my personal information. So everything that I've put on my laptop I have in a scheduled time frame now to every week back up that information and save it with a new date and have copies of that old information - save the old dates as well as long as I have the space for it on my hard drive so that I can go back to that information if I ever need it, so that if even if my laptop were to die I would still have that information on the hard drive. And you still run into issues where you think about, "What if the hard drive breaks down as well?" Well, the next thing I've done is try to keep everything on DVD's in terms of space, and I keep that in a safe place be it, you know, I know some people that go to the extent of putting it in a social security box or putting it on an external USB as well. But I think the more copies you have of information is better as long as they're protected and in places that you know are secure.

FIELD: And when you go to the gym now?

CHIP: When I go the gym I'm a little more cautious. I actually stop home first, even though it's out of the way, to make sure I don't have my laptop with me or any of that info. And, again, right, exactly - from parking in an area where you might be subject to someone breaking into your car, I certainly put that in the trunk now. I mean, I just learned that thieves can easily break in. It's only a matter of seconds before they're out of the parking lot. And another thing I have noticed is some parking lots, in particular the one where I was, didn't even have surveillance. So there weren't cameras or anything in place, so you wonder how many times incidents like that occur in such areas. But I try to be cautious about where I'm parking and park close to lighted areas in parking lots and really just take - I'm more leery of it because I had never faced that before.

FIELD: Well, Chip, it's a great story. I'm glad so far it's had a happy ending for you. I really appreciate you taking the time to tell us what happened, to share your lessons learned and just to share your story.

CHIP: Absolutely, Tom. Thanks very much.

FIELD: Been listening to Chip. He's been telling us a true story about sort of his brush with identity theft. For Information Security Media Group, I'm Tom Field. Thank you very much.

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