Who would've thought a series of power cuts in Lalibela, Ethiopia could be the catalyst to a stolen identity?!
Picture it: The little internet cafe in the middle of a hilly, remote village in northern Ethiopia. Pre Smartphone. Pre Wireless. Why I decided to check my emails here, I'll never know. Wires everywhere - who knew what was connected to what and where that information was being fed. And because I wasn't logging out of my email each time (thanks to the power cuts) and stupidly kept going back into it, someone was able to hack into my account once I eventually gave up and left for the hotel.
I didn't know anything was wrong until I returned home a couple of weeks later and found my email account had been changed into Chinese. Looking back now, I think this was a decoy to not only distract me (and think someone Chinese was behind all of this), but to make it time consuming to get back into my account and change passwords and reset other accounts they'd hacked.
Stupidly I had the same password for my email and eBay, so that was their next stop. From eBay they got my Paypal account and from Paypal they got my bank details. Then they started shopping - internet dating and shoes!
Over the course of the next six weeks, I did a number of things. I immediately went to see my bank manager to close my current account. We also discussed the transactions - some had gone through and others were pending. I couldn't close my debit account until the bank had refunded that money (I really had to prove I was being defrauded - the perils of your debit account being hacked) and cancelled the pending transactions. That took the best part of two to three weeks. All the while I kept getting invoices in my name sent to my address with all these shoes I was supposedly buying. I was grateful they were only buying shoes. I think my account must have been suspended, only allowing for my monthly pay to clear, somehow. I'm not quite sure how that was done, but I don't remember having any problems with that side of it.
After going to my local police station and begging for a case number to show any baliffs that might appear if the fraud got out of hand - yes, always think worse case scenario - they gave me one but advised banks were now setting up their own fraud departments to handle the cases in-house. My bank was ahead of the game so I was collecting all of my evidence and handing it over to them, so they could pursue the offenders. I never found out the outcome, but I did eventually stumble across a name and address up in London and passed it to them. I wanted to go up there myself, but who knows if that was even a real lead?
Once the invoices died down, I had received all of my money back, was able to shut my account and reopen a new one, it was then I checked my credit rating with Experian. Luckily, that hadn't been affected, but probably because I had a very limited rating due to never owing anybody anything. I decided it was time for a credit card - not only to build up my score, but also to protect me whilst travelling. At the time, I had to prove to my bank with hard, cold evidence that I was being defrauded and they were only just setting up their fraud department, but credit card companies had been doing this for a while and it's much easier to cancel a credit card than cancel a debit account!
Through Experian, I used another company called Equifax and paid a very reasonable sum to protect myself, my identity and my credit rating for a year. I always did check my bank account regularly, but now I check that and my credit card daily to keep an eye on pending transactions which I don't recognise.
Amongst all of the angst, one funny thing did happen. I had a letter from the shoe company saying they had received the returned product and were refunding me. I phoned them up and it seemed I was speaking to a sixteen year old receptionist who didn't have a clue. I explained about the fraud and these were not true purchases and that they shouldn't be refunding me. Guess what? I received the refund anyway!
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Blogging is an amazing concept so here I am giving it a whirl. You'll get words. You'll get pics. Sometimes a vid or two. You'll get tongue in cheek, the odd humble opinion and an honest insight into my travels and writing life. Maybe even a few gems along the way. I'll be musing on home turf as I see more and more of the UK and sharing my experiences further afield on holidays and adventurous trips across the globe.