Most teenagers worry about who they will ask to the prom. Some, however, are placed into situations that require them to grow up much faster than their peers. I’ll never forget the day I found out that my identity had been stolen. I had just turned sixteen. My car had become my safe haven. I had a great relationship with my parents, but being able to drive satisfied all of my cravings for freedom, even if the drive was just to run an errand for my mom. I was coming back from the store. She had planned on making wings that night, and I had been sent to gather all of the necessary ingredients. When I walked through the door, plastic bags draped over my forearms, I heard my mom arguing with someone on the other end of a telephone call. I set the bags on the counter and waited anxiously to find out what she was so worked up about. My mom had always had a knack for getting her way, and it was fun to watch her operate, meticulously picking apart the other person until they either gave up or began to agree with her. After she had finished talking on the phone, I asked – like any other nosey teenager would – what the call was all about. She placed the phone back onto the charger and dropped her head, almost as if she never heard me say a word. After a few moments, she looked up at me and said, “ That was the bank. They called to inform me that your account was overdrawn by $1,500.” Her words alone knocked the breath out of me. I was petrified. I checked my wallet, and my debit card was still there. I did not understand how that could have happened. Only two people in the world knew my card number, or so I thought.
The next few weeks went by agonizingly slow. The feeling of freedom that came from driving quickly faded away. My parents and I had made a deal when my car was purchased that they would pay the note, but I had to pay for the gas and the insurance. My parents now had to pay for both of those things, making my unfortunate situation affect them just as much as it affected me. My parents had paid the negative balance on my account, and together we were working to get me back on my feet. All the while, this hiccup in my homelife affected the grades I was getting in school. My insurance company offered a discount for students who maintained “A’s” and “B’s” on their report card. The “C” I made in chemistry put an end to that. My insurance premium went up $40 that next month, which seems like such a minute amount of money now; but, back then, it felt like a huge load on my shoulders. As time passed, things began to settle down. I was able to get back on top of my school work, finances, and social life (which had dissipated greatly while I worked as much as I could and held onto every penny I could find.) Then, a collection agency called my house. My father answered the phone this time. From the look on his face, I could tell the news was grim.
My father turned to me and humorously asked if I had taken out a mortgage. It may seem strange, but humor was all that was keeping us afloat. Of course, the answer was no. As bad as the situation seemed, this phone call was a godsend. The collection agency called to demand that I pay the $35,000 I owed in late mortgage payments. Had they never called, the person who stole my identity could have done so much more damage before I ever knew that anything was going on. My parents and I hired a lawyer to take our case. He did some digging and contacted us within the next few days. Apparently, the person that had stolen my identity had opened credit card accounts, titled cars, rented apartments, and, as I stated before, even mortgaged a house using my information. He had completely taken over my life and, if not for that collection company’s phone call, would have continued to ruin my financial future.
I finally knew what was going on. I understood why – criminals will be criminals. Yet, no matter how hard I tried, I could not understand the how. My debit card never left my possession; and my Social Security card was in a fireproof box inside of my house; but, somehow, this person was able to steal both of those things from me. Not long after our meeting with the lawyer, the person who stole my identity was caught trying to steal from someone else. From the second I heard how he was able to do it, I felt like an idiot. He was able to steal my identity by taking advantage of the unsecured Wi-Fi connection at my local Starbucks. The same day that I got my car, I met up with some friends to “study” at Starbucks. We met nearly every day after school. Every single day, I looked at my computer screen as it read, “Caution your connection is unsecure.” Unfortunately for me, I never gave it a second thought. I checked bank account information. I applied for jobs with my Social Security number. I did everything you should not do over an unsecure internet connection, and I paid the price.
My advice to you is this: do not be as foolish as I was. I still have mediocre credit due to the stupid decisions I made as a teenager. Surf the web all you want at your local coffee shop, hotel, or fast food joint; but do not use those connections to log into banks accounts, private pages, or anything else that you would not want others to have access to. Take my advice and the advice of the other people who have written their stories down to share with you. Be safe, and be blessed.