Ann dreads receiving another piece of mail from a collection agency demanding payment for overdue credit card bills run up by a crook who stole her identity. It has happened before, and Ann suspects that it could happen again.

Everything began in 2004, when a fill-up at a local gas station turned into a thief’s opportunity to steal Ann’s debit card number. She suspects that she fell victim to a crime ring she read about in the local newspaper. The scam involved gas station attendants who jammed card readers at the pumps, forcing patrons to hand over their debit cards to the attendant, who allegedly records the numbers and sells them to outside parties.

The Florida resident said this happened to her, and shortly after, someone withdrew money from her checking account to make a purchase at an auto dealership across the country, in Washington State. Thankfully, Ann acted quickly. She caught the unauthorized transaction and immediately authorized the bank to investigate the incident. All of her money was replaced by the bank, which cancelled the debit card. Ann had to call and redirect automatic payment of several bills to a new account.

During different discussions with bank officials, Ann was told that it was cheaper for the bank to replace her money than to try finding the guilty person and prosecute. The investigation showed that she had used her card in Florida at a grocery store the same time the crook used it in Washington.

Ann thought that this would be her last encounter with the imposters.

But six months later, she received a demanding letter from a Texas collection agency asking Ann to pay up for an overdue cell phone bill from AT&T. Someone had used Ann’s private information to open an account with the company in California. Ann contested the charges, and after several unpleasant phone calls with the collection agent and the AT&T billing service, she managed to convince them that someone had fraudulently opened the accounts in her name. AT&T offered to settle with Ann for a third of the original amount, but after she objected, the phone company rightfully dropped all charges. However, they did not remove the bill from her credit report.

Ann faced the same problem earlier this year, when yet another collection agency sent her a bill, this time from a cable company in Washington State. The crooks had installed cable TV in their Pacific Northwest home, and once again, used Ann’s Social Security number to open a fraudulent account. Numerous phone calls and another round of paperwork over seven weeks finally resolved the matter, and left Ann weary that the latest incident would be the end of her troubles.

“I don’t know how else to put this, but that it feels like being violated,” said Ann who realizes how vulnerable she and everyone else is to identity theft. “Even more frightening is they still have most of my private information, including my full name and social security number, and they are still out there.”