Green Beret Warns Retirees: Leave No IDs Behind

While away for the winter, a retiree's home is burglarized and his late wife's identity is stolen.

Friday, December 28, 2012

When Richard Barnhill travels to the Southwest for winter, he takes steps to protect his main residence: Relatives and neighbors drop by to make sure everything is secure.

Despite this, thieves ransacked the retiree’s home and stole, among other items, his late wife’s Social Security card, driver’s license and checkbook, which he kept in a desk drawer.

“I’m a great saver,” said Barnhill, 79, whose wife had kept the house in meticulous order. “I had stuff I didn’t know I had.”

Barnhill, a former parole officer and Green Beret, knew well enough to have relatives call the police, and then change the locks to his house and cars, and to contact his insurance company. But his greatest concern was for the safety of his identity and credit—as well as that of his late wife’s.

“I was really worried because I didn’t know how many checks were out there,” he said. The process involved to safeguard their good names and credit appeared daunting, involving phone calls, letters, notarized copies of death certificates. “It was very stressful and time-consuming—my daughter and I put in hours to figure everything out.”

Fortunately, Barnhill’s auto insurance provided him with identity management services from IDT911. Fraud Investigator Donna Miller was dedicated to his case until its full resolution.

“After dealing with so many institutions and trying to get a hold of real people, I was pretty stressed out by the time I got to Donna,” Barnhill said. “She was just wonderful. She took care of me, and I was just so pleased with her.”

Miller moved quickly to shield Barnhill’s and his wife’s credit:

  • She coordinated calls to Equifax to put a fraud alert on both their credit files.
  • She prepared letters, copies of his wife’s death certificate and envelopes with postage to all three credit bureaus for Barnhill to sign and mail.
  • She ordered a ChexSystems report.
  • She followed up to make sure no new issues developed.

For snowbirds like Barnhill who travel to warmer climates, here are some tips to keep the bad guys away:

1. Make your home look lived-in. Put mail on “postal hold” and stop newspapers while you’re gone or ask a neighbor to pick them up in a timely fashion. Don’t forget to have your yard maintained and use timers on your lights.

2. Lock it up. Secure doors and drawers. Store paper files such as bank or credit card statements and earning statements behind locked drawers. Keep important documents such as passports, Social Security cards, and birth certificates in a safe deposit box.

3. Shred it. Buy a quality crosscut shredder and shred everything with your name and address, such as statements and invoices and pre-approved credit offers.

4. Check your credit reports. Review your credit reports from the three reporting agencies—TransUnion, Experian and Equifax—twice a year. Visit, the government-mandated source for free credit reports.

5. Tell your banks and credit card companies about your travel plans. Provide them with your cell phone number in case they notice unusual charges.

“It was so worth it to have this coverage,” Barnhill said. “I’m familiar with the system, but you don’t realize what’s involved until you’ve been the victim.”


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If you need identity theft assistance, call your provider organization to be put in touch with the IDT911 Resolution Center. More information for individual consumers.