31 January 2008

From London with Identity Theft.

On Friday 28th of December 2007, I was out to buy Granary Bread - a treat for my wife - at our local bakery in Crouch End, London. I presented my card only for it to be rejected by the chip and pin machine. Thinking little of it, I proceeded to the nearest ATM to withdraw cash, the card was retained. I brought out another card issued by a different Bank and this too was retained by the ATM. At this stage, still unsure of what was happening; I spoke to the personal banker at the Bank who casually advised that I could pick up my card on Monday morning.

I decided to walk down to the Bank that issued the other card a few blocks down the road to find out why my card was retained. Whilst the Bank official was checking my account on the screen, I noticed a flurry of activities on the account that same day. About six withdrawals were made from different branches of the Bank that day.

Apparently, my cards were retained because someone had called to report them missing on the 24th of December. I was placed on a call to the Bank's Fraud Unit, after about forty-five minutes of listening to funny music, I eventually got to speak to a human being who then informed me that the department I wanted had closed advising I call back the following day - a Saturday.

I had suffered from Identity theft in 2005 and it took a full year and tons of telephone calls and letters to clear my name. I did not want to go through the same experience in 2007 and certainly I did not want the distraction at this time. Nevertheless, I had to do something so I duly got on the phone by 9.00am on Saturday morning. The lady I spoke to was very abrupt. About thirty minutes into our conversation, she asked me to hold on. Coming back to the phone she told me that she had just been informed that someone posing as me had just tried to withdraw money from one of their branches in North-West London. It was at this juncture that she started to believe and be nice to me. She promised to inform other branches in the area to be vigilant.

I decided to go to my local branch to pick up a statement of the transactions to take with me to report the matter to the police. Whilst there, a call came through to the personal banker that the fraudster had been arrested at the Hendon Branch of the Bank. I was relieved to say the least. The Police came to take a statement from me later that afternoon and informed me that they found on the suspect (that’s being nice to him) a British Driving License in my name and several pieces of information about me including Bank Statements. Apparently he’s got 11 convictions already and 18 pending for the same type of offence. Before anyone jumps into any conclusion, the Police informed me that the suspect is from a country in East Africa that I will not mention.

The suspect was released the following day pending arraignment before a court of law. A few days later, he or his accomplice went to the Bank, this time around with a fake UK passport in my name.

Incidentally, in the same period, I received a call in England from my Relationship Manager in Nigeria to authorize payment of a cheque I had issued to someone before I left Lagos. It appears to me that your money is safer with Nigerian Banks than British Banks.

To avoid identity theft

1. Shred your Bank statements and other important documents, don’t discard in the bin.
2. Be careful with your date of birth, this is often used as the main security question by Banks. With your d.o.b and address, any fraudster is more than halfway into stealing your identity.
3. Check your accounts regularly.
4. Have an alert system set up on your account for any withdrawals if possible
5. Set up a password on your account – this is not always sufficient as fraudsters can get it changed with the Banks if they have other information about you. It happened to me. Don’t be fooled, the system is not as secure as you think.
6. If it ever happens to you, be calm as it is easy to be frustrated. PostCardfromLagos