I used to think that if I zealously guarded my personal information online, I could protect myself from identity theft.

That changed last week when I opened a thick envelope from Sherman Dodge of Skokie and discovered I had purchased a blue 2013 Volkswagen Passat for $22,568.34.

“What the…,” I yelled to my husband. “Somebody just bought a car in my name.”

I had never stepped foot in Sherman Dodge.

The next day we drove to the car dealership and learned that a young woman came into the dealership on March 25th claiming to be my granddaughter.

OPINION

“She needed a co-signer. Our normal procedure is for the salesperson to call the grandparent and say, “I am with your granddaughter and are you willing to co-sign for them a car. That person said ‘yes,’” sales manager Bill Kay told me.

Without ever laying eyeballs on me or seeing a piece of identification, the salesman took the person’s word that she was who she claimed to be.

The situation became even more bizarre when the salesman agreed to take the documents to the fake Mary Mitchell.

“So the salesman and this person drove to your home and stopped the car. The person made a phone call and said you were not home and had left and gone to services only a couple of blocks away,” said Joe Las, the general manager.

“They actually drove to the church and a woman, posing as you, ducked out to sign the papers. When we didn’t get the ID at the church, we still didn’t think anything. But when we didn’t get the ID on Monday, we knew something was shady,” Las said.

“That made us scared. We stopped everything and got the car back. Nothing was ever sent to the bank. Nothing was really done and set in stone, and I am so happy you didn’t turn out to be a victim,” he said.

But while I am not on the hook for the vehicle, I am a victim of identity theft.

In order for the fake granddaughter to pull off her elaborate hoax, she had to have access to my confidential information.

“She would have had to give social, employment information, work information, and date of birth. She would have to know a lot about you. Not only that, she would have had to play the role as you,” Las told me.

He said the identity thief brought the car back with no problems.

“Why didn’t you call the police so this woman could be prosecuted for deceptive practices?” I asked.

“It is common practice that we don’t. It is so bad that I would be in court everyday. I throw five or six people out everyday that have fake documents. It is unbelievable,” Las said.

“I remember working at one dealership when somebody deceived us and they sued us for giving out their information. You can’t win,” he said.

Needless to say, I filed a police report and now have identity theft protection and have put a freeze on my credit.

But I feel like I was mugged without ever leaving home.

And to add insult to injury, the identity thief got a better interest rate on the car loan than I got the last time I bought a car.