On December 31st an Amtrak train was departing Chicago Union Station and I was to be on it. Travel, as a necessity, is eased by planning and it is not uncommon for potential passengers to purchase their tickets in advance. Amtrak offers an E-ticket service allowing travelers to buy their tickets online and print them out at their leisure. It was a service I, too, had utilized multiple times. However, on December 29th, at the time of this particular tickets purchase, I was asleep, eleven hours away from Chicago at my home in New Jersey.
What had prompted Amtrak to send a ticket addressed with my full name to my personal email? The Sunday morning of the ticket’s arrival, I consulted with my family over their travel plans. My father and I share a name, it was entirely possible that he was traveling and Amtrak had the wrong email on file. After a brief discussion we concluded that no one was traveling to the Midwest within the time frame of the ticket, nor purchased anything from Amtrak in the week prior. It also came to light that in the last month, my parents’ healthcare provider was the victim of a security breach in which personal information was stolen. This elicited, to put it lightly, a very spirited reaction. It was now clear that someone had utilized the data from the breach to create a credit card in my father’s name, and was making purchases on that card. Realizing you are the victim of identity theft is a bit of a glass shattering moment. A sinking, helpless feeling, watching your credit score fall into decline under the weight of bogus, sometimes extremely expensive purchases. After recognizing we were the victims of fraud it had become time to mitigate the potential damage. I encouraged my father to file victim statements with the three major credit rating corporations (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion), put fraud alerts on all his other credit cards and contact the police. In the meantime I was to cancel the mystery ticket. Once the ticket had been squared away, my parents made their own choice to not file any kind of reports, not with the credit rating agencies, nor the police and to wait out the situation. Frustrated, I attempted to keep occupied by digging around in the tickets. I found that two emails were attached to the purchase receipt, my own personal email and an address with my name, one that I had never seen before. Curious I felt the urge to email that address but neglected to do so, reasoning that it was best to allow my parents to handle the situation in the way they saw fit.
On December 30th another ticket had appeared in my inbox. This ticket was for the December 31st train from Chicago Union Station, it was the same date, time and train as the previous ticket. Again I poked around; it an identical ticket ticket, repurchased the next day, with the exact same information. It was peculiar that an identity thief had such a desire to get out of Chicago on December the 31st. Contemplating my doppelganger’s motivation; I noticed I had another email. To my own shock and bewilderment it was the other email address on the ticket. Astonished my first thought was, this person had the audacity to email me after possibly using my name to book his post-holiday getaway? Opening the imposter’s email I was met with a sight I won’t soon forget. According to a man sharing my exact name, he had purchased an Amtrak ticket yet it had mysteriously been cancelled, by someone posing as him.
howmanyofme.com is a web tool that allows the user to enter their first and last names to see how many other Americans share their name. From those results, there are fifty eight Frank Quigley’s in the United States, for perspective this means that the U.S is composed of .00000018% Frank Quigley’s. Upon looking into this man’s attached signature, his personal email and my own personal email differ by just four alphanumeric characters. Slowly I realized that through some sick twist of fate, I was actually the bad guy, canceling a strangers train ticket mere days after Christmas, and possibly causing them unneeded travel related stress. It was a one in a million fluke, a Christmas miracle of sorts. In the most unlikely way my taking the correct steps to protect my own identity, ended up being detrimental to someone equally as innocent.
Yet I had to return to my parents’ own inaction. My experience had been a chance encounter yet their information really had been lost, by a real security breach. Nine out of Ten times this is a case of stolen identity and I could not recommend a course of inaction when dealing with identity theft. It is important to take steps to protect yourself and if you believe your identity has been stolen the federal government has great resources to walk you through minimizing the damage and getting your life back into your hands.
After a brief correspondence my situation with the other Frank was been resolved and I was left with one of the most memorable emails I have ever received.
The Federal Trade Commission’s online guide to dealing with identity theft: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft
Credit Rating Company Equifax’s online guide to Fraud: http://learn.equifax.com/identity-theft/ID-protection