this is what identity theft feels like

It's a dang miracle that I didn't shop at Target between November 27th and December 15th, the recent time period in which customers had their data exposed. Target is like my second home. Most of my friends feel the same, and now some of them are scrambling to get their ducks in a row after being financially compromised. All of this fear surrounding big banks and thievery reminded me of the time my data was stolen just after I graduated college.

The school didn't even call. They sent a blanket email: “We regret to inform you that you were one of the students whose data was released in a library information compromise last week. Information obtained by hackers includes credit card details, passwords, home address, social security numbers, date of birth…”

My first response was denial. “They have thousands of people's data. They probably won't use mine.” I put off dealing with it initially. Tomorrow. I had post-grad stuff to study for, a job to manage. Bills to pay.

is this me?

The rapidness with which those hackers got organized was astonishing. “Did you try to make a $400 purchase in New York?” the Chase teller asked me. I hadn't been to New York in over a year. I explained the situation: all of my information, exposed. The answer? They had to close ALL of my accounts. Not just reissue a new debit card. With my full social security number, date of birth, everything, the likelihood that they'd obtained actual account numbers was great. So the whole thing had to go. Credit cards, too.

Starting from fresh with a new bank account is refreshing. And confusing. And kind of overwhelming. It took awhile to iron out all the fees that the bank tacks on. Calls to the institution to explain that they're supposed to waive that $6 monthly as my account is grandfathered in from the days of the Washington Mutual takeover. “Yes, I know it looks like a new account, but I'm an old customer.”

contemplative chelsea

It did help me get on top of my monthly expenditures, though. I'd signed up for autopay on everything, so none of my payments were going through anymore. I realized that pretty quickly, as Time Warner shut off our internet. Netflix, water bills, electricity, gas, trash. The number of services that keep our lives going is incredible.

And then there were the mystery accounts that popped up in my name. A Victoria's Secret charge card. A subscription to Stamps.com. I imagine all those stamps and g-strings were set to make for some seriously kinky adventure, but the signee never got to find out.

protective chelsea

Finally, the rebuilding: trying to manage data in a post-theft world makes a person hyper-vigilant. “Why on earth would the church group need my child's social security number?” I put it all on lockdown. Credit monitoring services. Since my information was obtained over a computer hack, I became aware of all the weaknesses in electronic data. WiFi can be secured with a VPN service like HotspotShield. Paying cash for small transactions also limits exposure. I now buy household essentials on Amazon to avoid transactions at multiple stores.

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Want to learn more about  Hotspot Shield? Their free VPN will hide your personal information on your computer or phone, ensuring that hackers can't swipe credit card details (literally) out of thin air. Connect with Hotspot Shield on TwitterFacebook and their very ownHotspot Shield blog.