Michelle Brown: How To Overcome Identity Theft (Law, Tips, Fixes)

Identity theft is an ever-present threat for most American citizens and those around the world. With numerous cases of identity theft, one of the most famous is that of Michelle Brown.

Michelle Brown was the victim of an 18-month identity theft nightmare beginning with an innocent form and led to her testifying in support of the Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2000. Brown was forced to spend considerable time overcoming this crime and still suffered from its effects long after.

There are many lessons that we all should learn from the case of Michelle Brown, and I have outlined the background to her story as well as those important actions you should take to protect yourself against identity theft.

What caused Michelle Brown to get her identity stolen?

In 1998, Michelle Brown was filling out a rental application in her landlord’s property management office when her name and social security number were stolen by a woman named Heddi Ille. Ille was an acquaintance of the owner of the rental company and used their relationship to steal Brown’s information. 

On January 12th of 1998, Brown received a call from Bank of America inquiring over a payment she had supposedly made on a new truck a month prior. Reacting quickly, she put fraud alerts on her credit reports, driver’s license number, and canceled all of her credit cards, but unfortunately, Ille had already acted. 

From the moment Ille had Brown’s social security number she used it to obtain a driver’s license in Brown’s name. She set up a cellular service, residential telephone, and utility services, bought a brand new truck, had a liposuction procedure, and signed a year-long lease in Brown’s name. Ille’s crimes reached a peak when she presented herself as Brown in court after she was arrested for trafficking 3,000 pounds of marijuana. Ille was finally arrested in July of 1999, one and a half years after Brown’s identity had been stolen. 

After Ille was arrested, Brown’s troubles did not end. The shadow of her tainted record followed her everywhere she went, including being flagged in an airport and questions for an hour after her return from a vacation in Mexico. In order to restore her credit and name, Brown embarked on a 500-hour mission filling out dozens of forms and making thousands of phone calls.

Even after her great effort, Brown was still afraid her name would forever be associated with Ille’s crimes. The inefficiencies she countered in the process of clearing her name made Brown invigorated to limit the chances of another innocent person going through the same ordeal. She testified to the U.S. Senate Judiciary Subcommittee on Technology, Terrorism, and Government Information. 


How did Michelle Brown help change US laws about Identity theft?

Michelle Brown testified to support Senator Feinstein’s Identity Theft Prevention Act of 2000. Brown had felt that the current system set in place had failed her in not catching Ille’s fraud, and in the long, arduous process she had to face to clear her name. 

The Theft Prevention Act of 2000 made strides to help protect the American public from fraud. As an amendment to the Truth in Lending Act, it obliged a credit card issuer to confirm the cardholder’s change of address and notify the cardholder if a request for additional cards was made. Before the Theft Prevention Act of 2000, there was little regulation regarding the fraud alert procedures consumer reporting agencies had to follow. Now, agencies had to follow standard procedure and required each agency to investigate any discrepancies between information obtained and prior information that was submitted by the original user. 

The standardization of theft procedures made it harder for people to commit fraud, and more likely that consumer reporting agencies would catch fraudulent behavior before it spiraled out of control. Brown’s testimony and the publicity of her case helped many people after her. Her case was of such interest that her story became a television drama called Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story. 


What is the TV drama Michelle Brown’s story about?

Identity Theft: The Michelle Brown Story has a plot that closely resembles the true story of Michelle Brown. In the movie, Michelle buys her first house and submits paperwork to the mortgage lender. One of the employees working for the lending company, Connie, uses Michelle’s credit card and social security number to go on a purchasing spree. 

Once Connie’s spending gets out of hand, Michelle starts to suspect her identity was stolen. Before Michelle can act, however, Connie gets arrested for attempting to traffic marijuana. When Connie is finally caught for fraud, she is arrested and sentenced to two years in prison. Michelle goes on to testify in front of the U.S. Congress, causing a great reform in American laws to increase regulations against identity theft. 


Tips for preventing ID Theft

Everyone must be proactive in preventing identity theft. There are a few ways to protect yourself and decrease your chances of being a victim: 

1 – Enroll with an Identity Theft Protection Company. 

A theft protection service will alert you quickly if there is any suspicious activity on your accounts. An immediate notification will help you recover your assets quickly. Life Lock by Norton is a service that will alert you by text, email, phone, and mobile app if a threat to your identity is detected. They also have a defensive strategy; a VPN that helps keep online activity private. If one of their users does become a victim of identity theft, their agents will work to help the user as well as reimburse them up to the limit of their plan. 

2 – Be smart about your Social Security Number 

Do not carry your SSN in your wallet or have it in digital files. Be wary of who and when you are giving your SSN out to and only give it when absolutely necessary. The same goes for sharing other personal information like birth date and bank account number. 

3 – Be aware of of your Mail 

Collect your mail daily. If you are going on vacation or will be gone for several days, place a hold on your mail to keep it from falling into the wrong hands. 

4 – Change your passwords 

Use complicated passwords and do not use the same password for all accounts. Update your passwords frequently and avoid predictable numbers like birthdays. 

5 – Review your information regularly 

Look through your credit card and bank statements. Keep receipts and compare them with your account statement. View your credit report at least once a year. Make sure they don’t include accounts that have not been opened by you. 


What to do if you are a victim of identity theft

If you see any suspicious activity on your accounts, freeze your credit files immediately. Card freezes prevent others from applying for credit accounts in your name. Contact your credit card company and let them know of the fraudulent behavior. 

Identitytheft.gov is the federal government’s resource for identity theft victims. The website provides a checklist and sample letters of how to correctly go through the government’s recovery process for your assets.  

How to recover from being the victim of identity theft

To start the recovery process immediately, file a complaint and affidavit with the Federal Trade Commission. Filing out a report on their website will help you dispute fraudulent transactions that were listed on your credit report and allow you to get your money back. 

The next step is to file a police report. Your local office report should include the accounts compromised and a copy of your Federal Trade Commission complaint form. These documents together will be vital in helping you dispute the fraudulent activity on your accounts. 

To start clean it is important to get a new driver’s license number. You can take your paperwork to your Department of Motor Vehicles and request a new number. After your information has changed, go forward with vigilance. Be careful in guarding your personal information and always be wary of who has access to it.