Distance Between Same-Day Purchases Sounded Alarm For This ID Theft Victim

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Submitted photo by Megan Stufflebeem

Megan Stufflebeem knew something about two purchases on her credit card was suspicious right away in September 2013.

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Megan Stufflebeem saw $200 get stolen from her bank account in a six-hour time period with one transaction made in California and another 2,000 miles away in Ohio.

In the summer of 2013, Stufflebeem, 29, received a call from her small-town local bank, now known as Grinnell State Bank, reporting suspicious activity. The transactions were clearly not Stufflebeem’s, considering she lived in Des Moines, Iowa, when the thefts happened and still resides there today. Stufflebeem works at Blank Children’s Hospital as a registered nurse.

ABOUT THIS PROJECT

Seven students in a Simpson College journalism class spent spring 2017 researching and writing this report about identity theft and cybersecurity. Team members were:

  • Ashley Smith of Edina, Minnesota
  • Madison Wilson of Corydon, Iowa
  • Alex Kirkpatrick of Indianola, Iowa
  • Stephanie Woodruff of Fairfield, Iowa
  • Erich Bogner of Keokuk, Iowa
  • Clayton Bowers of Indianola, Iowa
  • Hunter Hillygus of Marshalltown, Iowa

Mark Siebert, Simpson College assistant professor of multimedia communication, led the class. IowaWatch executive director-editor Lyle Muller worked with the class on story development and editing.

“I do bank with a small town bank – it’s a local bank – and I don’t know if that made any difference or not if they caught it quicker because they’re a small bank, but they caught it within two transactions,” she said.

Stufflebeem, along with her bank, has no idea how her card information got stolen. She recalls the money being spent at a Walmart, but doesn’t know which Walmart or what items the money was spent on.

She describes canceling her credit card, filling out paperwork and waiting to be refunded as a “pain in the butt.” It took one to two weeks after canceling her credit card number to complete paperwork to prove she did not instigate the transactions so that she could receive a new debit card.

Luckily for her, her bank could prove she didn’t spend the money, largely because the $200 was spent in two different states.

“It took a good month or two before they were able to refund my money,” she said.

Stufflebeem said she didn’t shop much online before her money was stolen so she’s confused by how her account was hacked.

“I feel like it was such a fluke thing, which it always is that it happens to you,” she said. “I still spend money online, but I’ve never trusted PayPal. I’m sure it’s a very trustworthy source, but I’ve never used it and I don’t use, like, how you can connect your credit card to your phone. I don’t do that.”

PayPal’s website offers buyers a Purchase Protection program to protect online purchases. The site says you aren’t liable for unauthorized purchases made from your account and if you report an unauthorized transaction problem within 60 days from the transaction date, they’ll investigate right away.

Stufflebeem’s advice for preventing identity theft is to be cautious about where you spend your money.

“Obviously, be really careful where you’re shopping, especially online,” she said. “They can put those credit card scanners on just about any place you can pay for something. Just watch what you’re doing.”

Sometimes, though, she said there’s nothing you can do. “I may not have even done anything wrong. People are tricky.”

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