Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Who’s stealing me?

It is one of the creepiest realizations you can imagine.

You get a phone call one day from a credit card company that wants to confirm your application for a new account, except the address is not the one they have for you.

You answer, “No, not me.”

A day or two later, the phone rings again. Another credit card company wants to know if you have applied for a new account with them. “Nope.” “Not you”, you say.

Now, you think something is up. The same day, your bank statement displays a withdrawal you didn’t make or authorize. Then there is another one.

The bank officer suggests that your Social Security Number has been compromised and someone is using it to hack into your bank account and open new credit card accounts in your name.

You order a credit bureau report and find some strange things in it. Inquiries from a mortgage lender you didn’t ask to lend to you. Addresses for a place you never lived.

You call the sheriff to get an investigation going. The deputy says a detective will contact you.

In the meantime, another unauthorized debit appears on your bank account and you receive a letter from a bank saying they declined your application for a new account because they didn’t think it was really you.

They were right.

So you place a fraud alert on every account you have and all of your credit bureau records.

You pray that you have caught it in time.

We don’t know how my Social Security Number was compromised. We have suspicions. We think it might have been among the veterans' records that were stolen.

Fundamentally, we don’t think it had anything to do with any internet activity, since we never use our SSN on the internet.

Since we are wrestling with attempts to defend ourselves from identity theft personally, we worry even more for those who have not yet been stung.

We have added secure order forms to our Native-JewelryLink and ZuniLink sites. Your credit card info is encrypted, so it is not available to any third parties. (Incidentally, you also can use these secure order forms to order items from Native-PotteryLink and TribalWorks simply by entering the product and credit card information on those order forms - look for the padlock icon on the browser bar. Or you can call us 800-305-0185)

We are concerned about merchants that use shopping carts, however. No matter how secure the merchants are, the credit card information is held by a third party and is only as secure as that third party.

This is not to say that merchants with shopping carts are unethical or even risky. But their practices are less secure than we would generally accept for our customers. Moreover, If the merchant is in the art business, a shopping cart seems unnecessary. If you sell one-of-kind objects of art, how hard is it to keep track of the sale of them?

As a family, mom-and-pop operation that relies on our personal taste and is dedicated to serving each customer as someone we know, we are happy to operate as we do.

A few tips from us: Be sure to order a free credit bureau report. You are entitled to one per bureau each year. It will tell you what is going on with your financial arrangements. Also, read your credit card and bank statements promptly and thoroughly. You want to catch any threats early, as we hope we have.

We want you to be financially whole.