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After receiving a call in January 2017 about a past due payment, the Rev. Elizabeth Bell quickly realized something wasn’t right. She soon found out someone had opened a card in her name through Amazon, spending $1,800 in less than two months.
Bell, 49, of Fairfield, Iowa, received a copy of the bill learning that the individual bought items at a local Amazon store in Seattle, Washington. Amazon employees told her people can submit their personal information online and Amazon opens a card in their name, she said. It’s that simple.
“It seemed kind of lax on their side as to regulation and control that just anybody can open an account without any double checking,” Bell said.
Bell did not know how the thief achieved using her personal information, especially because she and her husband, David Bell, only use one credit card and seem, she said, to be careful with passwords.
“The fact that this happened seems so surreal to me and then it made me angry,” she said. “There’s a vulnerability that happens with this. The idea of trusting a system or trusting individuals gets compromised.”
Bell said she is irritated that people take advantage of opening a card online while harming innocent people in the process.
“I’m a United Methodist pastor so my role is to trust people and to love them and to do God’s work and look at all people with value and this really challenges that,” Bell said. “It really kind of hurt my feelings that someone would do something like that.”
Bell, who formerly worked in credit and collections before becoming a clergy, is using her skills to research credit processes to find the person who stole and spent her money. She was waiting to hear back from her credit card company, Symphony Bank out of Seattle, which told Bell it takes about 90 days to research the investigation.
“I think when people get their identity stolen by a nameless, faceless person, many times, you know, it might be even out of the country, I think we have to have a sense of reconciliation with that to say, ‘How could you do this to me?’” Bell, appointed to three Van Buren County churches, said.
Bell no longer makes online purchases and does a yearly check on her credit so she can make sure she’s protected. She and her husband decided to purchase a program, Last Pass, which changes their passwords on a regular basis to keep their accounts secure.
“I have the benefit of having worked in that industry and I know how to read a credit report. And I know what it means when there’s something on there,” she said. “Educate yourself. If you don’t know this, learn it. Because, otherwise, it could be harmful for you in the long-term.”
Bell also suggests people build a strong relationship with their bank and credit card companies and look at their credit report every year. She says people don’t need to live in fear, but rather be more self-aware and cautious of what your sharing with the world.
She said she is determined to find the person who stole her money so she can feel more secure.
“They haven’t gotten caught yet. I will probably find them at some point. I’m giving myself a little time to cool the emotional, but I think it’s important for us to have that resolution so that we can feel safe again.”