I have been a victim of identity theft… and not just once, but twice. The first time done by the hands of a stranger – the second time done by someone I know very, very well.
I recently received a letter from a debt collection agency saying I owed them around $2600 for a delinquent Verizon Wireless bill. Well, of course, I was floored. Scott and I have a Verizon account, but it is actually in his name, not mine, and it is always paid every month. So I called the debt collection folks who then told me to call Verizon if I was denying these charges. I called Verizon and finally got through to the Fraud Department. They proceeded to tell me that someone had used my social security number to open a Verizon account through a Georgia internet store. They set up 5 lines with Georgia area codes in January 2012. The lines were disconnected around May 2012.
The first girl I spoke with verified where I had lived these last couple of years to see if I had ever lived in Georgia. We were actually living in Union City, TN, at the time this account was opened. She then told me the steps I needed to take in order to prove this wasn’t my account. The main thing I was going to have to do was get a police report that said that I was a victim of identity theft and had a Verizon account opened up in my name unknowingly.
The good news is, after I spoke with another girl in the Fraud Department, she was able to search through some databases and verify my residence at the time of the account being opened. She said I did not have to file a policy report, and that she would close the investigation and note that this was a fraudulent account. She totally took care of the charges and debt collectors, plus corrected my credit history. It was such a blessing! I was so relieved.
I have to say, it is pretty creepy knowing that someone stole my identity. That somehow, they were able to get my social security number, without my knowledge, and use it for their own personal gain. It left me feeling anxious, picked through, violated. I can’t imagine how people feel when it is more than just their identity that is stolen. When someone has broken into your house and physically rummaged through your personal effects. Ugh! I can’t stand the thought.
Like I said earlier, I have actually been a victim of identity theft twice. The second one started much earlier than January 2012, and the after effects are much more severe than my own anxiety and violation. The consequences could actually affect you.
Sarah and I were talking a few days ago about her blog. She was worried about offending someone with her entry idea about Lent. “What if someone at the church or at a future church doesn’t like it and it hurts your ministry?” she asked. “I’m scared about putting all this about excuses and healthy living. What happens if I fail to do that and I fail in front of a bunch of people?” And that’s when I truly saw the issue: my wife was frozen by fear.
When I first fell in love with Sarah, she was fearless. I think it came from her background in athletics. An athlete wants the ball when the game is on the line. Sarah was no different. As a leader in the church, her lack of fear betrayed her intense reliance on God as her source for all the strength she needed. This is but one of the things that made her so attractive to me. Yet, as we talked in the car that day, this fearless, God-reliant girl seemed so distant.
My mind raced to what I might have done to cause this. I apologized with all my heart if I had said or done anything to instill this lack of confidence. She assured me that it wasn’t anything I had done. And as we began to talk, we noticed several areas where fear of letting people down and failure had hampered Sarah’s life and altered her identity.
I asked Sarah what harm could come from the blog? After all, even as a pastor’s wife, she was entitled to her own opinion. And if anyone at the church I worked at had an issue with her opinion, perhaps I didn’t need to serve under them. We talked about her fear of failing in the kitchen and concluded that if her attempts went awry, there are 20 or so restaurants within 10 minutes of our house. Besides, we could all have a good laugh and a great memory for years to come – just ask my mom about the spaghetti debacle a few years back!
Fear only serves to rob us of the identity that God placed within us. It is a tool of the enemy used to keep us from fulfilling what God has planned for us. I encouraged Sarah to be who God made her to be, as boldly as she possibly can be. I think that is what Romans 12:1 is all about, when Paul writes that we are to present our bodies as a living sacrifice to God as an act of spiritual worship. We can’t allow fear to rob us of our identity and prevent us from making our sacrifice to God. Besides, the abundant life of John 10:10 has no room for fear.
Sarah is regaining her identity. Fear is being beat down. She isn’t changing. She is re-emerging as everything else that has life during this season. And I am in awe of the beauty and power I see bursting forth from her. – Scott
I think it’s so wonderful how God speaks to us in the everyday activities of life. As long as our eyes and ears are open, He’s always trying to communicate something to us, even in a Verizon store. See, the conversation that Scott and I had in the car about my blog happened the day before the Verizon identity theft fiasco. So as I am walking out of the Verizon store after my discussion with the Fraud Department rep, the conversation came flooding back to my memory. I may have been a victim of identity theft due to the hands of some shady person opening up cell phone accounts under my name, but I had also been a victim of identity theft due to my own hands, thoughts, and feelings. I had let fear creep in and steal the very essence of what made me me.
I’m still not sure exactly how I let fear get such a grip on my life. Scott apologized for anything he may have done to cause it, but it was definitely not him. And it wasn’t my past, like he mentioned above, because that wasn’t how I was when I first met him. I just think that the enemy (or ‘Big Red’ as Scott calls him), little by little, stripped a little bit of confidence here and there over the years, and replaced it with fear. With every wrong decision, with every disapproving look, with every criticism, I began to fade. This probably wasn’t evident to a lot of people, because I tried so hard to be confident, especially in a church setting. But Scott had a front row seat to this whole show called ‘Sarah’, and I am so, so glad he shared with me his heart on this whole thing.
After this Verizon identity theft crisis, we have seriously contemplated getting LifeLock, a company whose sole purpose is to protect your identity. Based on their website, they are constantly monitoring and scanning for any activity done with your personal information. So if your social security number is used at all, they immediately let you know so you can verify if it’s your activity or not. But I think in light of LifeLock and what they do to protect you from being a victim of identity theft, I discovered the way to make sure to not allow fear to rob me of me in the future. I need to constantly monitor and scan my thoughts and feelings and verify that they line up with God’s word and what He has called me to be… what He says I am… what He created me to be. I have to “take captive every thought to the obedience of Christ”. 2 Corinthians 10:5
I mentioned earlier that God is always talking to us; we just have to be listening to hear Him. In particular, He has spoken many, many times to me through Disney movies 🙂 So to end this post, I am reminded of a conversation that took place between Helen (Elastigirl) and her two children, Violet and Dash, from The Incredibles. As she hands them their masks, she says that their identity is their most valuable possession – protect it. (Just in case you’ve never seen it, the link to that scene is below.) So I’m going with Elastigirl’s advice, holding on tightly to what God’s Word says I am, and taking back my identity.