As artists, we have to put ourselves out there in some form. We get up on stage to perform or read our work. Most of us at least have a social media page for our band or an Amazon page for our novels, even if we aren’t into online chatting or posting photos of our lives. Obviously, I think this is great. I wouldn’t own and run a website if I did not enjoy being online. But there are dangers to an increased public presence, including an increased risk of identity theft.
“Traditional” Identity Theft
When we think of identity theft, we picture somebody stealing our credit card number and running up bills we could never pay for things we would never want, and never see. The person who dresses exclusively from thrift stores opens their credit card bill to find a charge from Prada or Gucci. You don’t drive, but somebody paid for a car to be detailed with your credit card. This can certainly happen, but it is not normally the first sign. Credit card thieves typically make a few test purchases before going on their sprees. These purchases can be as small as a drugstore lipstick or chapstick or single soda or candy bar. The goal is to see if the thief has stolen a card with some available cash or credit on it, and determine if they will get away with using it. Once that first small purchase goes through, they’ll move on to bigger hauls.
One of the first signs of this type of identity theft is the appearance of those small charges on your credit card or bank statement. Check the dates on cash withdrawals. You might be in the habit of withdrawing forty dollars for spending money from time to time, but look those charges over anyway to make sure one was not done while you were at work or out of town.
Should you notice anything unusual, no matter how small, take the time to look into it, and if you are sure you did not make the charge, report it to your bank immediately.
In some cases, the identity thief does not steal your name or financial information, they just use some of your contact information to avoid dealing with their own issues. I always think of this as scapegoating, because it puts the blame for their poor choices on to you.
When I got my first job after college, I was able to afford the first phone in my own name. That was the only good thing about this job. I spent most of my time off passing out my resume anywhere that might hire me for something better. And the calls came pouring in. If only they had been calls from people with job offers.
The calls were from credit card companies demanding payments. They came from dentist offices chiding me for missing my child’s appointment. The graduate school I attended online wanted me to get in touch with my adviser about my academic performance. Student billing also needed to reach me about my charges. These were all legitimate requests. You should do your school work, pay your bills, and care for your children. But I wasn’t in graduate school at the time. I didn’t have a credit card that had a balance on it, never mind a late fee. And I have never been the parent or guardian of any child. Callers kept referring to me as “Tamara” and when I could manage to convince them I was not Tamara Clark (not her real last name), they behaved as though I were screening calls for her. For several months, my phone rang anywhere from two to eight times per day with calls for Tamara, and I was scolded for shielding her at least three times a week. It quickly became clear that whoever “Tamara” was, she continued to use her old phone number, now my phone number, for things she didn’t care to deal with.
While changing your number is the surest way to end the calls, that may not be possible for everyone. I had too many resumes out with that number on them, and needed to answer my phone in case a potential employer called. Others may have family members or friends who would have difficulty contacting them with a new number, or have that number on file with too many important accounts or places to make changing it practical.
If you suspect that someone has been using your number to avoid calls, the only thing that will stop their creditors and other contacts from calling you is to speak up. If you get a credit card company employee who keeps insisting you’re screening, ask to speak to their supervisor. Keep asking until someone allows you to explain the situation and believes you. I was fortunate to finally get a call from someone who took my word, apologized, and made a notation on Tamara’s file. The calls slowly subsided after that.
Using your materials to catfish (romance scam) others
“Catfishing” is a scam that occurs when one or more people pretend to be someone else, or a fictionalized version of themselves, in order to trick others into a relationship with them online. This is usually a romantic relationship, but there are catfish who pretend to be employers or friends as well.
The signs you might be talking to a scammer are well documented, but the direct target is not usually the catfish’s only victim. These scams rely largely on stolen photos, poems, and life stories. If you have a public profile for your music, acting, or writing career, that page is open for scammers to steal from.
There is little you can do about this, and you will likely never know it has even happened. You may come across pages for yourself that you never set up. You might get an odd message from some stranger who thinks they’ve been talking to you. Maybe someone will insist they saw you on a website you never joined. Or your pictures, stories, or name might be used for years without a single detail making its way back to you.
If you do find fake pages, or catch someone stealing your poetry or lyrics, you can report the page to the site owners and ask that it be taken down. If your material is copyrighted or registered under your name in any way, you may be able to take legal action. But if a scammer has just modeled a character they play after you, all you can do is add a note on your own page explaining the situation.
For each type of identity theft, act as quickly as possible. Do all you can to protect yourself. You may have to cancel or put a hold on a card, shut down a website you worked hard to build and maintain, or go through the trouble of writing and posting several disclaimers, but it is worth it to protect your professional and personal reputation and your finances.