A few years ago, I was the victim of identity theft.
It's taken me about five years to write about it, such was the horror.
Like other crimes, victims often feel they are to blame. My situation wasn't any different. Although lives weren't lost in this particular crime, a lot of money was, including IP, and 15 years worth of cherished digital memories when my computer memory was wiped clear by an "expert" who didn't know how to do a backup properly.
For years, I felt I was to blame. I didn't take two-factor authentication seriously when I shoud have. I thought phising scams were only perpetrated on weak, vulnerable, twits who fall for Nigerian prince money scams.
None of these are true, except perhaps my naivety in thinking that people have better things to do other than phising.
Someone unknown to me, managed to commandeer my gmail account, pour through emails looking for financially sensitive information,contacts whom they could potentially exploit and anything that was remotely convertible into money and or the potential to earn money. I was prevented from seeing these exchanges as they had blocked contacts.
At the time, I had a line of credit through a foreign bank. They managed to forge my signature and execute a total withdrawal of the maximum available with the bank manager responsible, never contacting me once over the phone to verify. In this case $30,000 vanished.
The same perpetuators took over my blog and website, the domaine and content, and starting selling cheap sportswear off the back of it. Although I didn't fully appreciate how much traffic I had at the time and the value of that traffic, it was stolen. Trying to get it back would have been an expensive and futile legal exercise so I didn't bother and abandoned the fight, and blog for years. Such was the impact of the crime.
These same criminals tried to then steal from family members, by writing to them, from my account (without me knowing) and asking for money. Luckily, they didn't fall for it.
This all occured in the early days of 2FV (two factor verification) and when I naively thought you could only be a victim of identity theft if you left your unlocked laptop or phone out with no passwords. How naive I was.
The crime was so insidious, an IT friend of mine, suggested it must have been perpetrated by someone I knew but no one I know would ever go so far as to sink this low.
I have long since reconciled this mess (well kinda) but am sharing the story as a reminder to guard that which is precious, (and I'm not just talking about money and houses). Make sure your email can't be hacked, that everything of value online is secure and don't doubt for a second that internet crimes do exist and it's not just grannies getting fleeced. Both my partner and I have experienced bank card skimming and related loss of funds in addition to the incident I have described above.
Take all the precautions you are advised to when it comes to identity and financial security, and hold close to you all that you value. You don't know what you have until it's gone and some things are unrecoverable.
Amanda Morrall is a New Zealand based personal finance expert. Her first book Money Matters was published in 2013 by Penguin Random House in NZ.