Sometimes your identity can be stolen while you're innocently paying bills. Just ask Lori Lee-Savage, 45.
A manager at a nonprofit in Washington, D.C., Lori was shopping for holiday decorations in December 2004 when -- much to her surprise -- her debit card was declined at two different stores. She decided to stop by her bank and within minutes the branch manager informed her that her identity had been stolen, along with the $3,100 in her account.
"I had tears rolling down my face," says Lori. But her troubles were only beginning. As her paychecks were automatically deposited, the thief would siphon off more money. Lori finally got the bank to freeze her account but had to wait 45 days to be reimbursed, during which time she incurred roughly $300 in penalties for insufficient funds (which were not refunded). Six months later she was still struggling to set everything right.
Lori believes the thief tapped into her home wireless network. "My ATM card had never been lost or unaccounted for, and I didn't carry a checkbook, but I had been paying my bills online," she says. "In the end it appeared my wireless network was the only likely source."
After the theft, Lori empowered herself by taking computer courses at a community college. She still pays her bills electronically, but now she runs the latest security software and relies on encryption programs to password-protect her WiFi network. She also subscribes to credit monitoring services that immediately alert her to any suspicious activity on her accounts.