THE CALLER: Mark Kalbfleisch
DATE: Monday, Oct. 31
TIME: 6 p.m.
PLACE: 7200 block of Casa Loma

Mark Kalbfleisch was almost out the door with a princess, a cowboy and four other trick-or-treaters when the phone rang. It was the head of the San Francisco Police fraud department, who said his officers had arrested a man in possession of Kalbfleisch’s mortgage loan papers and personal information.

It turned out the San Francisco arrestee had hacked a laptop computer used by Kalbfleisch’s mortgage lender. He was one of about 15 people whose identities were stolen.

After fighting off urges to dwell on the worst-case scenario, Kalbfleisch immediately called the fraud alert hotline at Equifax, one of the three credit bureaus. The alert on his credit report was sent to all three companies, blocking anyone from creating a new account with his name unless he was notified first.

He hasn’t heard anything from the credit bureaus yet.

“It seemed like [the arrestee] was stopped before any damage could be done,” Kalbfleisch says. “I just consider it an act of God.”

Kalbfleisch says he had never worried about identity theft. He looks over his bank and credit card accounts monthly, relies on his credit card company to notify him when it notices odd activity, and restricts his online credit card use.

Though Kalbfleisch decided to stick with his mortgage lender, in the future he will be more prudent to ask what kind of security a company has on its computers.

“You would hope that mortgage lenders have policies and procedures in place,” says Dallas Police Officer Keith Allen. But before giving out personal information, he says, everyone should inquire about the company’s policies regarding information storage and access.

Allen also encourages residents to invest in a shredder and let it eat documents that have personal information. And, of course, never give your Social Security or credit card numbers to anyone you don’t know.

During the holidays, online shopping increases can be perfectly safe, Allen says. But because all types of security levels exist, people shopping online should look for the most secure connection possible.

In addition, pay attention to receipts left at restaurants — make sure they do not include your entire credit card number — and either refuse a receipt or make sure you take it from the popular pay-at-the-pump locations. Identity thieves can follow receipt trails.

“They get their hands on one piece, and then another piece, and before you know it, they’ve completed the puzzle,” Allen says.

Kalbfleisch says the credit bureau fraud hotlines (888-766-0008 for Equifax) are also a “tremendous safeguard,” especially since a call to one reports potential fraud to all three.

After making that phone call, Kalbfleisch says he was able to put his brush with identity theft out of his mind and enjoy trick-or-treating with his six children.

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