I’ve had my own issues with identity theft over the past several years. From getting called by our lady in HR to confirm that I was still working for my employer when I was the victim of unemployment benefits fraud, to the fun adventures with the IRS and being the victim of tax return fraud. And more recently I found out that I am one of the millions of people in the U.S. whose confidential employment screening records were stolen in the OPM hack. When I found out about that I kindof laughed… now in addition to my social security number, address, employer, and whatever identifying information can be gleaned from my rather minimal social media presence… my fingerprints may have also been stolen. Suuuuuuper.
So while I signed up for the free* ID theft protection available to OPM hack victims, the reality is that by using our password database and super secure passwords, monitoring our credit scores and accounts using free tools like credit sesame and what’s offered by our credit union, and having a 7-year credit alert on my credit account, we’re probably doing just about all we could do to cover our bases. At least in terms of MY identity.
But now Mr PoP has officially joined the identity theft club. And like so many things Mr PoP does, it just had to be in a way that was supremely weird.
It All Started On Saturday…
One of the tools that I use to keep an eye on our accounts (in addition to using Mint for ~15 minutes every month) are notifications on our various credit card accounts. These are basically just triggers that shoot me an email whenever things out of our norm are going on with our accounts, in particular large purchases. On Saturday, I opened up my email and saw a large purchase notification from American Express. It said that Mr PoP had just spent $495 at Amazon.
I saw this while I was out running errands and didn’t worry about it too much, assuming that Mr PoP had finally pulled the trigger on the pricey weed whacker he had been talking about for ages (and even more often recently). Mr PoP was out of town, so I figured I’d hear about it later when we caught up and mostly forgot about it. Then later that day when I was in our Amazon account downloading a receipt for a reimbursement and noticed that there weren’t any orders on our Amazon account that day – at which point I started to get suspicious. I texted Mr PoP:
“Did you order something for $500 today? Has your cc been stolen?”
Mr PoP said he had his card with him, and that he hadn’t bought anything for $1, much less $500 on his personal AmEx since he had left on his work trip. He also confirmed that he had another personal card with him as backup, so I could go ahead and call to cancel the AmEx.
AmEx was pretty great about reversing the charge, cancelling the card, and issuing Mr PoP a new card with a new number. It only took a few minutes and I thought we were done.
Until I Opened The Mailbox On Monday
Sitting inside the mailbox was a small padded envelope with an address label to Mr PoP from Amazon. Now, I had just looked through our Amazon orders two days earlier and we weren’t expecting any purchases from Amazon… but I also knew the mystery $495 charge was from Amazon. So could these be related?
I opened the package and found these.
According to Saks, those are $450 cuff links. Which, when you add shipping and taxes, probably comes out to the neighborhood of $495… the value of the mystery Amazon charge. But the cuff links were the only thing in the package. There was no packing slip or receipt and no way to tell who ordered them.
I called Amazon and they said with the limited information on the shipping label they were unable to trace who ordered these cuff links, but they did confirm that they absolutely did not come from our account (or any accounts that are linked to ours in any way as Mama PoP’s account is).
Me: “So what do I do with these cuff links?”
Amazon: “Well, you can donate them. Or sell them. But you can’t send them back to Amazon.”
Me: “Um… okay.”
American Express wasn’t a ton more help on the matter, either. They said they were still investigating my fraud report, and didn’t really say what to do with the cuff links, but that they were still “researching”.
So I sat on our couch with $495 worth of (according to the opinion of everyone I’ve shown them in person, kindof ugly) cuff links in my lap wondering what the heck had happened. Here’s what I knew:
- Someone had made a charge on Saturday for $495 to Mr PoP’s credit card that went through as “AMAZON COM”.
- Two days later we receive a package at OUR home addressed to Mr PoP (and showing HIS PHONE NUMBER on the shipping label) from Amazon Fulfillment Services containing cuff links that cost $450 + shipping + tax, but no way to tell who ordered these.
The fraudster has Mr PoP’s credit card (with security code and expiration date needed to purchase on Amazon), address, AND cell phone number and chose to order $500 (sue me for rounding up) worth of ugly cuff links and send them to Mr PoP?!? Really!?!
We Have No Idea What The Deal Is
One of my friends think it must have been one of Mr PoP’s colleagues playing a prank, since I told them in the past about a prank one such colleague played earlier this year that caused us to cancel one of his credit cards and issue a new number. I think this is unlikely. The previous prank was stupid, but not malicious. A prank like this starts to feel malicious.
Another friend thinks the fraudster must know where we live and was planning on driving to our house and stealing the ugly cuff links from the mailbox before I got home. I’m also a bit dubious on this one. Our mail is delivered pretty early in the day. These would have been sitting in the mailbox for HOURS between when the tracking notification showed they were delivered and when I got home and got the mail.
I’m inclined to think some online retailer where Mr PoP had used that card (ironically not Amazon since that card was never linked to our Amazon account) had their database hacked and that’s how the fraudster got the complete slate of Mr PoP’s purchasing info. (CC #, security code, expiration date, name, address, phone #). But if that’s the case, why the heck would they order something so ridiculous** or send it TO us?
Or maybe the cuff links and the charge are completely unrelated? Who knows?
The Silver Lining?
The charge has been reversed, and we’ll hold on to these cuff links for a month or so in case American Express is able to figure out where they came from as part of the charge dispute and needs us to send them back. But then if they don’t want them we get to decide what to do with them, so I guess that’s a plus.
Ironically, the biggest benefit to come from all this hassle is that I got to file a police report with Mr PoP as an official identity theft victim, which I’ll be able to use to get his own credit alert/freeze on his credit account. (Since *I* had been the official victim of all the previous identity theft issues, the credit bureaus wouldn’t put the alert on his account.) And having more protection on his credit account (though it wouldn’t have helped prevent this situation) can only be a good thing.
Has anything like this ever happened to you? What do you think the fraudster was intending with this plan?
* Is it really free if my tax dollars are going to pay the bill for these services?
** When I told the cop filing the police report about the cuff links, she guffawed that someone would spend that much on a pair of cuff links, much less fairly unattractive ones.