Category Archives: Editorial Viewpoint

Identity Theft—My Story & Ways to Protect You 

 

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On June 12 about two-something in the afternoon, my wallet was stolen at Trader Joe’s. Leaving my purse open in the shopping cart, I had reached to grasp strawberries, coffee, and other foods. When I dug for my wallet to pay at the check-stand, all my identification, credit cards, and $233 in cash were gone. A sense of disbelief swept over me, followed by guilt for being cavalier about my purse while shopping—followed the rest of the week by a deep sense of invasion, betrayal, anger, and some depression. Probably the biggest loss was the time it took to get back my life. It’s been a week today. I’m still working on it.

In this article are contacts you will need to report key documents and information missing, to replace those things you need, as well as to protect the identity you carry in your purse or wallet in the future. Having a list helps you get organized.

I stumbled through the process of reacting and regrouping,
which often happens when you’re the victim of a crime.

Losing your identity is more traumatic than one would think. “Victims may experience emotional trauma—emotional wounds or shocks that may have long-lasting effects,” according to the Victims of Crime website. They say emotional trauma may take many different forms, and certainly feeling frozen and experiencing disbelief, difficulty with decisions, sleeplessness, anger, and stress are reactions I experienced. Here are emotions people feel as victims of many types of crimes.

  • Shock or numbness: Victims may feel “frozen” and cut off from their own emotions. Some victims say they feel as if they are “watching a movie” rather than having their own experiences. Victims may not be able to make decisions or conduct their lives as they did before the crime.
  • Denial, Disbelief, and Anger: Victims may experience “denial,” an unconscious defense against painful or unbearable memories and feelings about the crime. Or they may experience disbelief, telling themselves, “this just could not have happened to me!” They may feel intense anger and a desire to get even with the offender.
  • Acute Stress Disorder: Some crime victims may experience trouble sleeping, flashbacks, extreme tension or anxiety, outbursts of anger, memory problems, trouble concentrating, and other symptoms of distress for days or weeks following a trauma. A person may be diagnosed as having acute stress disorder (ASD) if these or other mental disorders continue for a minimum of two days to up to four weeks within a month of the trauma. If these symptoms persist after a month, the diagnosis becomes posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

    Source: http://victimsofcrime.org/help-for-crime-victims/get-help-bulletins-for-crime-victims/how-crime-victims-react-to-trauma

While some of these emotions were going on, I checked and re-checked all the places in the store where I’d stopped to consult food labels and place items in my cart, thinking I’d left my wallet there, which was silly, because why would I? It never occurred to me to look accusingly at fellow shoppers, mostly women. After hours of searching and talking to owners of shops I had visited that day, I went home and waited for a sheriff’s deputy to come over and take an incident report.

That interview was the best part of my day. Not only was I taking back a little control, but the deputy was young, pretty, impressively intelligent, and after an initial stiffness/professional demeanor, memorably helpful and friendly. She gave me advice about steps to take to protect myself from further abuse, including contacting credit bureaus to put a lock on my accounts, and other key survival tips.

Did you know you’re not supposed to store your Social Security card in your wallet? I didn’t. So I have to fill out paperwork and bring my driver’s license to the SS office nearby to order another. You can’t do that online.

Except, oh, wait, I no longer have a driver’s license. Mine was in my wallet.

The driver’s license issue was a nightmare. It took two visits to the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) and close to eight hours to order a new license. This task you can’t do online or at Triple A, and the DMV offices in Southern California are so overburdened with requests for the fed’s new REAL I.D. (an I.D. that lets you fly domestically) on top of the other typical and complex tasks and new paperwork requirements, that lines form around the block and it takes hours to complete the simplest things, such as taking a driver’s test. In my area, there is a two-month wait to get a DMV appointment, which cuts down on standing in the line-around-the-block but doesn’t cut down on the two- or three-hour lines inside the building. It is illegal to drive without a license, so I had no alternative to spending those wasted hours to get a new one ordered. Clearly, California DMVs are severely impacted and understaffed for serving the public’s needs.

On the day of the theft, the thief traveled quickly to a Ralph’s Supermarket in my city and tried to purchase $1514.85 in merchandise and/or gift cards. First, they used my business debit card. Bank of America automatically rejected it, presumably due to algorithms or tracking: The bank knows I would never spend that amount at a grocery store. Next, the thief tried my Mastercard. Then my American Express. I don’t know whether the person got away with the latter two or if the financial companies simply reversed the charges once I reported the loss.

In reaction, I visited the Ralph’s store manager and learned that, no, the check-out clerks don’t report an incident when a patron uses card after card after card, each being declined, for a purchase. Why not? If I had presented two cards and was turned down, and still presented a third, I would appreciate a store policy wherein the manager gets involved and even takes a report or at the very least compares the driver’s license to the person’s face. With identity theft so rampant, a store’s policy of non-intervention doesn’t work for me. It’s a failure of customer service.

Identity Theft is Rising

For the annual National Crime Victimization Survey (NCVS), the definition of identity theft includes three general types of incidents:

  • unauthorized use or attempted use of an existing account
  • unauthorized use or attempted use of personal information to open a new account
  • misuse of personal information for a fraudulent purpose.

I am a victim of the first type—as far as I know to date. I’m still contacting agencies, such as the credit bureaus. With my Social Security card and my credit cards and driver’s license, the thief could easily buy a car. Or maybe a house.

Here are a few statistics:  In 2004, “3.6 million U.S. households learned they were identity theft victims during a six-month period.” Ten years later, in 2014, 17.6 million U.S. residents experienced identity theft” (NCVS).

A number of times the bank has cancelled my debit or credit card “for unauthorized use” by unknown parties. This inconvenience now happens at least twice per year, especially on the debit card. So frustrating!

Contact Information for Victims

If identity theft happens to you because your purse or wallet is stolen, here are a few contacts that will help you get your life back*.

Credit Bureaus:

Equifax: 800-685-1111
Experian:  888-397-3742
Trans Union: 800-888-4213

Federal Trade Commission: 877- 438-4338    https://www.ftc.gov/contact Contact them to report a missing or stolen Social Security card, to learn how to reorder one, to get info to repair your credit, and to open an identity theft account for further protection.

Social Security Administration: 800-772-1213    https://www.ssa.gov/   to print the form to reorder a SS card and to find an office near you.

California DMV: www.dmv.ca.gov  Check here to make appointments, get instructions for obtaining a new driver’s license, and find DMV field offices. You’re going to need a lot of patience!

Passport Office: http://travel.state.gov/passport for fraud involving your passport.

US Secret Service: www.secretservice.gov if someone committed credit card fraud in your name.

California Attorney General’s Victim Services: 877-433-9069 or 800-952-5225 or 800-777-9229 for a variety of services including victim compensation, rights, and support.

Orange County Sheriff’s Dept. Crimes Main Line:  714-647-7486.   Always file a “police report.”

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In addition to guarding your wallet or purse, and keeping it close to your body when out and about, here are other precautions recommended by the Orange County Sheriff-Coroner Department*:

  • Don’t carry your PIN numbers
  • Don’t carry your Passport or government Visa
  • Don’t carry more credit cards than you need
  • Don’t carry your Social Security card or number

To obtain a copy of *“Identity Theft: a Quick Reference Guide,” which includes how to respond to credit agencies, visit your local law enforcement office.

Opt-Outs:

  • Opt Out of credit card offers: 888-567-8688
  • Opt Out of solicitations on your phone (land or cell):   http://DoNotCall.gov  Call the registry 888-382-1222 to register phone numbers to reduce spam calls and/or report abuses.

Special thanks to Sheriff’s Deputy Raphael for professionalism, thoroughness, and kindness. Special thanks to friends Debra Holland and Matt Orso for being concerned enough when I was overwhelmed to bring me roses and very specific favorite See’s chocolates and for spending time. Thanks to Carl and Stacee for follow-up calls and loving support.

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Art is Not a Thing. It is a Way.

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An Editorial by Louella Nelson

In February 2017, the New York Times cut many of its popular categories of best-seller lists—including the lists for mass market paperbacks, a bastion of the romance novel—upsetting many in the arenas of publishing and reading. “Among the lists that appear to have disappeared are the graphic novel/manga and the mass market paperback lists as well as the middle grade e-book and young adult e-book lists,” Publishers Weekly’s Calvin Reid reported on January 26.

I prefer to follow up with good news: I thought this comment by the editor and publishing manager of Romance Writers of American (RWA) based in Houston, Erin Fry, was a beacon to authors who strive so long and hard to reach a pinnacle in publishing. “Thankfully,” Fry writes, “there are a number of other ways members can achieve Honor Roll outside of the NYT list: appear on the Publishers Weekly Top Ten bestseller list or any other PW best-seller list based solely on format, genre, or region; appear in the top 50 of the USA Today bestseller list; or have sold at least 100,000 copies in a single language” (which is the category I fall into).

Fighting back, RWA National sent this open letter of objection to the Times and also posted the statement on its own website:

As a trade association representing more than 10,000 writers of romance fiction worldwide, Romance Writers of America (RWA) is deeply disappointed by the decision of the New York Times to change its bestseller criteria.

Romance authors, most of them women, have dominated the best-seller lists in mass market and e-books for years. To dismiss these authors and the millions of readers who buy their books is to ignore what “bestseller” truly means. Each year, consumers buy more than $1.3 billion worth of romance fiction. If the New York Times eliminates the mass market and e-book lists, they are proving that they are out of touch with what consumers actually buy. Further, the dismissal of two formats dominated by women can’t help but feel sexist.

RWA strongly urges the Times to reconsider its decision.

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Reid doubts they will, and that’s a shame. Literally. Art–and there IS art evident in mass market fiction–is not a thing you can toss away on a whim or a concern about a bottom line. Art is the thread that binds a culture and makes it strong, vibrant.

I believe the move to cut back lists of popular fiction signifies the ongoing killing off of creative arts in favor of the flourishing of financial interests in our culture, if “cultural” we’d be when our arts dry up.

At the end of January, one blog post on a site called The Passive Voice announced a snide headline: “Panicky NYT circles the wagons around 1%-ers, throwing the rest of traditionally published authors to the wolves.” The 1%-ers are the big-name authors who hit the best-seller lists every time they launch a new hardcover. Pretty much the entire reading world knows their name. If a publisher mostly publishes 1%-ers, they’re playing it safe and not trusting that an investment in a new author will pay off. That’s been going on for a while.

Thus, new authors flock to publish their own books. However, the NYT shut another door in their faces. If the new author does everything right and sells a ton of copies, expect no recognition from the NYT: The organization dropped e-book lists. Looks like the NYT is playing to the 1% market, cutting costs, risk, the hopes of new authors, and the pleasure of millions who seek a new voice to read.

Without data to back up my claim but with life-experience guiding my opinion, I suspect that, like other major papers, the NYT suffers its share of money woes. As is so often the case when the financial picture darkens for a corporation or a country, funding and notice for the arts get cut back. For example, following the 2008 financial meltdown, the University of California Extension in Irvine, where I was teaching beginning through advanced novel-writing courses, cut all arts classes from its catalogue. They kept the computer-related courses that filled to capacity every quarter and that strategy no doubt helped the Extension program survive the financial crisis.

The ivory tower creative writing degree program at UCI only allows in about 8-10 students from all over the world, each year. So the closing of the Extension writing courses meant a good deal of Orange County and beyond went without a place to learn to write, publish, or produce. That was 11 years ago.

Even though the economy has rebounded, not much has changed at my local Extension. A quick scan of the catalogue I checked today shows business management, instructional technology, process improvement, finance, law, leadership—a host of valuable courses that can earn my neighbors some cash flow working in the businesses in Orange County. But not one course is offered in creative writing, screen writing, play- or poetry- writing, never mind singing, painting, dance, and so on.

I try to stay positive. And most of the time I can rise above that tug of disillusion that stems from chaos at the national level, mayhem in countries that offer rich culture and rare antiquities, and a community institution that delivers “university-level learning solutions by leveraging the expertise of the  campus and community” but completely ignores the need of the human spirit to renew itself in its arts (quote from UCI website).

Instead of advertising “solutions” and “leveraging,” let’s hear them yell out loud, “Creativity encouraged here!” Creativity is a friendly animal who lives quite well alongside capitalism, as successful romance writers know well. Instead of cut-backs in national lists of the books people love, let’s add lists for the new genres birthed by creative minds. Let’s open the doors of learning once again to the singing of souls through literature, music, and art.

It’s not just the number-crunchers at the New York Times or the local college or university that pluck at my positivity, but also the surging mood in Washington to do away with funding for the arts. Greed is more ubiquitous now than it used to be. Greed kills art.

The grand opera singer Beverly Sills believed, “Art is the signature of civilizations.” In this age, what are we leaving to posterity? A narrower view of what books to read? A business-only agenda? I ask this not just as a published writer but also as a college writing teacher and as a sole proprietor, a businesswoman serving the editorial and mentoring needs of best-selling and aspiring writers. What will we teach the next generation, those fresh young minds who feel a soul-deep longing to create—not just in computer science, for example, but in computer-generated art? That their dreams are not valid? That financial and engineering professions are more important?

Let’s just stop. There is another way to live, a way that arrays our many-faceted talents like a rainbow fan.

Elbert Green Hubbard was an American writer, publisher, artist, and philosopher who was born before the Civil War and unfortunately went down with the RMS Lusitania in 1915. He said, “Art is not a thing; it is a way.”