ENNIS - Martha Trees is hoping no one else goes through what she’s been through the last several months.
Trees is a victim of identity theft - by a person she has never met nor never seen.
“I’ve been working on this for months,” she said in an interview with the Daily Light. “”It’s been terrible. It’s a very difficult thing to get straightened out - and we’re still not there yet.”
When Trees became aware of anomalies in her accounts, the rural Ennis resident notified the Ellis County Sheriff’s Office, which continues to investigate the case.
She’s been told a Dallas woman has been identified as a suspect - and an arrest warrant is in the works.
Through the process, Trees has accumulated about a 12-inch stack of documents she’s had to sign, certify and send to such entities as the Federal Trade Commission, the three credit-reporting bureaus, her creditors and banks, and investigators.
Trees first became aware something was wrong when several long-time credit cards she had held sent her statements indicating her credit line was being reduced.
“I couldn’t figure out why they were reducing my line of credit, so I called Bank of America, and they told me to look at my credit report,” said Trees, who pulled hers from all three bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
What she discovered shocked her.
In November, someone who gave a Dallas address had opened five credit cards online in a single day - Wal-Mart, Men’s Wearhouse, Metro Style, Lane Bryant and Target. That person then proceeded to run up charges on the cards and not pay the bills, which put negative information on Trees’ report, leading to her true creditors pulling back her credit line and even canceling her real accounts about two months later.
A big disappointment to Trees has been her membership in a credit repair company, which had told her in return for a monthly fee of $19.95 it would go to work in the event her identity was stolen.
“They opened a case and did absolutely nothing,” she said. “I’ve done most of the legwork.”
One of the steps Trees has done was to contact the different credit bureaus and post a fraud alert to stay on her account for six months.
“An alert means that if anybody wants to open a new account, they can’t unless they speak to you personally,” she said.
Trees also had to contact all five of the retailers where bogus accounts were opened and send them each a packet containing a certified affidavit and proof of where she lived and a statement that she never opened the account. She had to send copies to the Federal Trade Commission and include the police report.
“Everything has had to be certified, and this has cost me a fortune,” she said. “It’s cost me time and money.”
She’s been successful in getting the accounts closed and off of her report - but one matter remains. To date, the three credit bureaus have not removed the Dallas address the suspect female used in establishing the accounts. Trees can’t get an answer on why they won’t remove that final bit of information.
Trees has seen a photo of the suspect.
“She’s a grandmotherly type, she looks like a decent person,” said Trees, who said the woman - who she doesn’t recognize - somehow obtained her name and Social Security number.
“It’s that easy for them (to open an account in someone else’s name),” Trees said, advising people to shred their personal information and any mail - such as credit card solicitations - before putting it into the trash as one precaution.
She also advises people who do a lot of their transactions over the Internet to avail themselves of any security measures they can put into place - and to file police reports if they find their identity has been stolen.
“Look at your statements, read your credit reports,” she said. “It affects your life, especially if you’re going to buy a home, a car. If you get on it as fast as you can, you can get it stopped.
“But you’re going to fight it at least six months until you get it straightened out. You’re going to spend time. You’re going to spend money,” she said.
E-mail JoAnn at firstname.lastname@example.org