What's the best way to protect myself from identity theft?
March 3, 2015 10:41 AM   Subscribe

An person with a history of ID theft may have gotten ahold of some of my identity information. I want to do all that I can to stop them from stealing my identity.

Okay, first I'll give the relevant bits, and then I'll tell the full story, for those who are interested.

The relevant details :

I was looking for an apartment to rent in NYC. I gave out my identity information to a real estate broker. I later found out that the broker has the same name as a convicted criminal with a history of ID theft. Here's the information I gave them :

* My name, phone number, and previous address
* My social security number
* The name of the bank I use for my checking account (I did not give away the account number)
* My yearly salary
* A rough idea of how much I have in my savings account (which is at a different bank. I did not give away the name of the bank where my savings account is)
* I let the broker take a picture of my driver's license with their cell phone

What's the best way to protect myself from ID theft? The person with the same name as this broker has a history of opening up credit cards in other peoples' names and charging up thousands of dollars in debt. I've also heard horror stories about criminals buying houses in other peoples' names and then selling the houses! I'm really scared and freaking out right now.

What can I do to protect myself? I know there are services like LifeLock that provide identity protection, and I know that the big three credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) provide similar services. However, I've heard these services are not very effective.

The full story (for those who are interested) :

A real estate broker showed me an apartment that looked good, so I gave them my info so that they could run a credit check. The situation seemed pretty normal to me, except for the following things : the broker took a picture of my driver's license, they emailed me from their personal email address, and they asked for a deposit on the apartment in cash (they said they wouldn't take a check). The broker also said something weird -- that they don't use ATMs because someone had stolen their identity once and ran up thousands of dollars in credit card charges. I gave them the $65 to do the credit check, but did not give any money for a deposit on the apartment.

It smelled funny to me, so I went home and googled the broker. Most of the results were for real estate stuff, but one of the results was a newspaper article about someone with the broker's name who'd been convicted of multiple counts of ID theft. These crimes involved opening credit cards in other peoples' names. This was in a different city, and the article did not include a picture of the criminal. However, I began to freak out. I called the real estate company that the broker worked for, and started to make inquiries. The company confirmed that the broker did work there, and was a licensed real estate agent. The broker's company seems to be a reputable business. However, I was not able to find the broker's real estate license through the New York State online search tool.

The broker later emailed me from their work email address, and then called me to try and straighten out the situation. I told them about the google result I found online, about the criminal with their name who was convicted of identity theft. The broker said they were not aware of this person or their crimes. The broker didn't sound guilty, but they didn't really convince me either. Some of the things they said didn't sound right. So I told the broker I was no longer interested in the apartment, and I asked them to please destroy all the information they had about me, including the picture of my driver's licence. I told them to just keep the $65 I gave them for the credit check. I mentioned that I had requested my credit report from one of the big credit reporting agencies. The broker was pretty understanding, and thanked me for alerting them to the situation about the google results.

The next day, the managing director of the broker's company called me. They assured me that the broker was a licensed real estate salesperson, and that the state doesn't give real estate licenses to people who were convicted of crimes. They assured me that the broker was reputable. They said that the broker should have brought me into the office to get a copy of my driver's license and fill out the credit check form, but that the broker was in a hurry. They also said that getting a cash deposit is standard procedure since they've had problems with peoples' checks bouncing. I asked if they do background checks on their employees, and he said that he doesn't do them personally, but that the company does do them. I thanked him for his time, but said that I was still not interested in the apartment, and I requested that they destroy any information they have about me.

So, who knows if this broker is a criminal or not? It may just be a case of mistaken identity, but the whole thing made me really scared. If the broker is a criminal, at very least, I'm hoping that they don't target me, since they know that I'm on the lookout for shady activity in my credit. Also, the broker's employer has been notified, so they'll hopefully be on the lookout for shady activity.

Regardless, ID theft is a big problem, and regardless of whether or not this broker was a criminal, I want to protect myself as best as possible.
posted by apostate street preacher to Law & Government (6 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Zander Insurance does this. I don't know anything about them, but Dave Ramsey (on the radio) has advertised them for years.
posted by jander03 at 10:58 AM on March 3, 2015

I wouldn't be too concerned about identity theft from this particular vector, because even assuming he's the criminal, now he knows you're on to him.

But I think you overreacted a little; you have to give out some of this information to do basic things like get a job, or health insurance coverage, or pay taxes, or get a credit check for an apartment. Not everyone who asks you for personal information is a thief. And thieves don't tend to waste their time working hard as real estate brokers.
posted by Andrhia at 10:59 AM on March 3, 2015 [5 favorites]

Actually, all of that sounds normal for getting an apartment in NYC - the info you provided, the photo of your DL, and even the broker emailing you from a non-work account (maybe they have their work email forwarded to their personal account and access it on their phone?). As long as it wasn't bootylicius69@Gmail, I don't see a problem.

However, you can flag your credit profile with the three reporting agencies, which means they are supposed to alert you at a number that you provide when an attempt is made to get credit in your name. I don't know if this will slow down your finding an apartment; I'm not sure if it slows down the actual credit check process.
posted by peanut_mcgillicuty at 10:59 AM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

Just flag your credit info with the reporting agencies as a general good practice.

I don't give copies of my DL out for this reason. I would only have put down a cash deposit at the broker's office with a contract and receipt because that is at least a couple of thousand dollars you are handing to someone on the street!

BTW, they ask for the cash deposit so that when the apartment falls through, they hold on to your cash and make you rent a different apartment through them. It is a way of securing your business.

This person was likely not an identity thief (see:licensing) but you did not know that.

You should have been able to find their id on the website. You can EASILY call the NYS RE Licensing Board to follow up.

In the future, ask to see their Real Estate License before handing over money or info! They should have it in their wallet!!

Source: had my RE license in NYC 10 million years ago.
posted by jbenben at 11:33 AM on March 3, 2015

What you want are Credit Freezes at all the credit reporting agencies. Free to apply and lift, but they can be a bit of a pain if you're active (shopping for loans, jobs, apartments, etc.).
posted by achrise at 11:45 AM on March 3, 2015 [1 favorite]

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