Below are highlights from Reddit’s “Ask Me Anything,” edited lightly for style and clarity by The Times’ Jessica Roy. All of these questions were submitted by Reddit users. You can read the original AMA post here.
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My name is Jessica Roy, and I’m a contributing editor in L.A. for the Journalism Group. Times. In 2018, my wallet was stolen from my wallet at a bar. Weeks later, I became the victim of a persistent identity theft ring, and the banks, credit bureaus, and police did nothing to help me.
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“L.A. I write a personal finance newsletter for the Times. I use free credit monitoring. All my financial accounts have unique passwords and two-factor authentication. The only known information in my wallet is my driver’s license. I never thought this could happen to me.
What I’ve learned, first as a victim and then as a journalist who writes about it, is that identity theft happens every million years and very little is done to prevent it. Every victim, like me, is working to come clean after the thieves who stole our identities and the institutions that allowed them to do so.
I wrote a home story about what happened and what it was like to fight when my financial identity was taken from me. I also wrote about how to reduce your chances of this happening and what to do if your identity is compromised. Finally, I suggest some solutions to make it harder for identity thieves to get caught in the first place.
A stolen wallet causes a reporter to battle identity thieves for a year and a system that doesn’t care or help.
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How do you know if your identity has been stolen, and what can you do behind the scenes to prevent it from happening?
My wallet was stolen at the end of November. In mid-January, when I received a bunch of letters congratulating me on my new checking and savings accounts at Bank of America and Wells Fargo, I realized I had new questions about my free credit monitoring. report it.
In hindsight, I should have frozen my credit when my wallet was stolen. In fact, I have to freeze it all the time (and you should read this). But I don’t know what people can do with a wallet that only has a driver’s license, some credit cards, some gift cards, and some cash. I don’t know how vulnerable I am, anyone can be a victim with our current system, even if I am financially conscientious and tech savvy.
Thieves will have a hard time opening an account if I freeze my credit before they even touch my wallet. Because I use free credit monitoring and act quickly when I know what’s going on, they can’t take out credit cards on my behalf. (Even if they believe they’re busted! A lot!) They can still use their driver’s license for carjacking and various other crimes because California doesn’t issue stolen licenses to banks or law enforcement. There was nothing I could do to stop what he was doing.
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What do you think my first step should be if my wallet is lost like yours?
Freeze your credit! I was surprised at how easy it was to do. It took 15 minutes to open an account and freeze my credit with all three [major] bureaus.
If possible, report the stolen wallet to the police. They probably won’t do anything, but the report is very important when dealing with debt collectors and investigators. I basically have to file a lawsuit to defend my guilt. A police report on the stolen wallet shows how it all started.
The benefit is that no one can open a new loan using your identity. The downside is that if you want to do something like get a mortgage or car loan or get a store credit card from somewhere, you have to put a freeze on it. But you can download a credit bureau app and do it on your phone in seconds.
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Credit bureaus don’t want you to freeze your credit because they make money by making your information available to creditors. If your loans are frozen, you will have a lower value on them. For me, that’s a good thing.
One interesting thing I learned while reporting this: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion are the major players, but checking accounts, payday loans, phone lines, utilities, etc. There are more than 100 bureaus that monitor your finances, including There is no way to “freeze” your financial identity all at once. Confused!
Credit bureaus used to charge for it, but not anymore. It should be free. Don’t say no and they will try to trick you into additional products that add up to your money.
Is identity theft insurance expensive? What do identity theft protection companies like LifeLock and Aura do? Here’s what to think about.
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Your bank seems empty. Is there anything your bank can do to protect you if your identity is stolen?
Well, the banks seem to be pretty rough about it all. For them, fake accounts are the cost of doing business. It seems to eliminate 100 shitty fees rather than prevent a person from becoming a customer.
I think you can get good customer service if you use smaller banks and/or credit unions. I did my checking and savings through a small bank and they were fine – the thief never got into my account no matter how many times they tried. But the major banks involved (Bank of America, Wells Fargo, and others) are useless.
Say you’re reporting the identity theft through a police report – I don’t think the police ever contact you. Have you ever been assigned a detective and found out you need a gun to do your job? It’s been a month for me and I don’t know if the police will be of any help.
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Oh, you really should follow it. I am. many times. I called the station several times and asked for the name of the detective assigned to my case, leaving constant voicemails and emailing him. It didn’t help much. The only reason I know who stole my identity is because he was caught committing another crime.
In fact, the advantage of reporting identity theft to the police is that you have a police report when debt collectors start calling you. Statistically, the police are more likely to help you.
Identity theft cannot be prevented. But these steps can help reduce the likelihood and, at the same time, reduce the impact.
Credit bureaus. This is a private business, but if you want an American bank account, you can’t opt out. They keep a lot of information about you, but they don’t care about protecting that information or helping you when the information goes bad.
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After I finished reporting this story in September, I checked my credit report with all three bureaus. All three contained false information, including the addresses of the thieves. I’ve argued with all three of these, and every page is broken to some degree. As a consumer, don’t be responsible to anyone.
Here’s what happened when I tried to dispute this issue in September: I submitted a dispute to TransUnion and after my dispute was resolved, I received an error message about an unreported technical issue. I tried to submit a dispute to Experian and received an error message stating that identity theft disputes cannot be processed online. I was able to send the dispute to Equifax and get a notification that the dispute was resolved, but every time I try to click on the PDF with the results I get an error message.
Again, the company tracks your every financial move, but is not interested in maintaining the system. Good. Love it for us as a community.
User shogunreaper replied: “I hate Equifax so much. I locked out my loan earlier this year and still can’t access my account.
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