I’m a Black Disabled Woman. My Identity Has Been Stolen More Than 6 Times During the Pandemic.

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This latest installment in the Intersectional Money Series is by Heather Watkins.

Black woman wearing a yellow sweater typing at her laptop. Coffee, a notebook and pen are in the background.

“Oh no, not again.”

I thought after receiving a letter about yet another attempt to steal my identity to get credit or compensation in some way.

In the past 18 months while in pandemic lockdown and loosening stages, scammers have tried to:

  • File for unemployment in my name in two different states.
  • Ordered food using my debit card info on both the east and west coasts of the country.
  • Tried to buy clothing from online retailers.

The latest scam involved taxes being e-filed in my name.

We’re all living in desperate times during this coronavirus wildness and many folks are experiencing far more disparities depending upon where you live, socio-economic status, marginalized identities, or lack of access to opportunities that might connect you to increased quality of life.

So many of us who live gridlocked with low-income tied to health insurance, food and housing security, transportation, childcare costs, etc have also had supplemental income and secondary support systems dry up overnight.

Many have had to pivot and get their quick footing by eyeing new ways to survive and stay safe, fed, and housed. There are scores of folks who may have run out of options and then there are quite a few who prey upon unsuspecting others for sport without a care about the carry-over.

According to this recent article, scams like these have cost Americans more than a half billion dollars since early 2020.

My lived experience makes me hyper aware of my finances.

As a Black disabled woman who doesn’t live too far past the poverty level, I know this sense of anxiety all too well. I’m cautious about how I spend my money and keep a watchful eye on my finances.

My state-sponsored health insurance is income-contingent and loss of coverage would interrupt the continuity of care needed. I have a physical disability that impacts not only my mobility but my respiratory muscles also. When resting at night, I require the use of mechanical ventilation to assist my breathing otherwise I could risk respiratory failure.

My health insurance covers the costly rental fees of this much needed durable medical equipment (DME) or else I would not be able to afford it since it exceeds my monthly income. Any fraudulent financial claims can quite literally affect my access to healthcare, and can affect other areas of my finances, too, since I am required to live on a limited income.

That lived experience and disability lens perspective has informed my work in advocacy in many ways. I’m empathetic to social conditions and failed systems that impact quality of life particularly where race, disability, and gender may intersect.

As a person in need of care, a caregiver, and community-builder all at once, I know many women who live in this continuum, especially Black women and other women of color. We often have little choice not to do so pulling double and triple duty in terms of responsibility.

Even places of rest like our bedrooms become office command centers; I’ve run board meetings and the whole house from atop my bed, managed healthcare, grocery delivery, and family finances. Disability may dictate staying in place for the day and/or many days.

Here in the U.S. one out of four persons is estimated to have a disability and that includes apparent, non-apparent, and chronic illness. That’s about 25% of the population, and Black people number at around 14% of the population.

When we consider the nexus of being Black and disabled as this recent Atlantic article attests, the percentage of disabled Black Americans is 14% and disabled Black people who live in poverty number at 36%.

Black people typically don’t have the cushion of generational wealth that might soften the impact of financial damage incurred from injury of identity theft and fraud. Multiply-marginalized populations like disabled Black persons have even less of a financial safety net because of factors like racism and ableism.

Being better-informed doesn’t shield me from the effects but does help shape my worldview beyond doom and gloom to a more expansive one. Think more context not just consequences; more proactivity instead of being reactive only.

Still, it’s unnerving that hackers gained access to my private information and used it in nefarious ways. So right after being initially upset, I made sure to activate better security measures.

Handling Unemployment Scams

First, I made sure to call both state’s unemployment offices and let them know that I didn’t initiate those claims. Thankfully, both times they confirmed that claims had not moved further because they had been unable to verify all information.

Addressing Debit Card Fraud

Next, the debit card claims were handled by the bank and the funds were immediately returned pending investigation. If the claims were found to be account holder’s responsibility then the funds would have been paid back to the bank. This usually happens by automatic debit.

I’ve since placed alerts on my bank accounts so that every time funds were moved I would get notifications, which would allow more time for an immediate response if something were found to be amiss.

The fraudulent online purchases were caught in time and were still “pending,” so I alerted my bank that the purchase was not initiated by me. It was denied and the retailer was blocked for my bank account.

If I want to purchase anything from that site in future, I will have to contact the bank to have the block lifted.

Tax Identity Theft

Lastly, after receiving notification in mail regarding tax filings, I contacted the IRS and it was  confirmed that just a few months ago someone had filed taxes using my information. I was urged to file an identity theft form for them to investigate and have on record for my own protection.

Also, contacting the credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report is another proactive measure that raises the red flag. It adds another layer of scrutiny for creditors to consider before granting applicants lines of credit and loans. You can either call or apply online.

Once you alert one of the credit bureaus they alert the others. The alerts can be temporary and last a year or as long as 7 years.

More stringent measures are security freezes and credit locks which place holds on your reports. They differ slightly and are explained in greater detail here.

The emotional labor of dealing with fraud during the pandemic.

It’s a lot of work to stabilize finances and find balance in such trying times. It can be a tough challenge especially when you may not have the physical and mental wherewithal to stay afloat without additional support.

Even now during festive times of year, it’s hard to muster up enough cheer when yet another strain of coronavirus is dominating the news. You start to wonder about further impact to marginalized communities. It’s complex, layered, and can feel overwhelming.

My advocacy work has expanded my awareness and reminds me to stay grounded as many of us are just trying to do the best we know how. There is such connective tissue that binds us all, and being mindful of that helps to keep my focus on building a better world where more of our basic needs are met, rather than focusing solely on blaming the wayward few who stay trying to break down individual and community morale.

I’m grateful that I didn’t incur much loss and hopefully don’t discover any more attempts in the future. But I’ll be ready and think I’m pretty well-buffered from all the gains, life hacks, and insights I’ve learned along the way as a Black disabled woman active in the disability rights community.

Woman in grey coat, blue and white blouse and blue earrings smiling at the camera.

 

Heather Watkins is a disability advocate, author, blogger, mother, graduate of Emerson College with a B.S. in Mass Communications. Born with Muscular Dystrophy, loves reading, daydreaming, chocolate, and serves on a handful of disability-related boards. Her blog, Slow Walkers See More, includes reflections and insight from her life with disability.

 

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