A conversation with … Diana DeGarmo

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Teenage “American Idol” contestant Diana DeGarmo worked hard to prepare herself for success in show business. Unfortunately, one less ambitious fan decided to help herself to DeGarmo’s bank account the easy way: by stealing her identity.

DeGarmo, runner-up to season-three winner Fantasia Barrino, used TV’s most popular show as a career springboard. To date, she has toured the country twice, with and without “Idol,” performed on a USO tour to Iraq, released her first album “Blue Skies,” and starred in two runs of the multi-Tony Award-winning musical “Hairspray.”

At a glance
Name: Diana DeGarmo
Hometown: Birmingham, Ala.
Education: Shiloh High School, Snellville, Ga.
Career highlights:
  • Broadway debut as Penny Pingleton in revival of Tony Award-winning “Hairspray,” Neil Simon Theater, New York, 2006
  • Horizon Award, Georgia Music Hall of Fame Awards, 2005
  • Released debut album, “Blue Skies,” in 2004. The single, “Dreams,” went to No. 1 on the Billboard U.S. Singles Sales Charts.
  • “American Idol,” second place finalist to winner Fantasia Barrino, 2004
  • Finalist on “America’s Most Talented Kid,” 2002
  • Miss Teen Georgia, 2002
  • As a third grader, DeGarmo was a Coca-Cola kid, performing three shows a day at the 1996 Summer Olympic Games in Atlanta.

Not bad for a 19-year-old.

But just as her career was lifting off, DeGarmo discovered someone had stolen her identity and was tapping her credit cards.

Bankrate caught up with DeGarmo on Broadway for an update.

Shortly after “Idol,” you became the victim of identity theft.

Well, somebody tried to steal my identity. This young fan decided to also attempt to take my credit card information and was purchasing things online.

Even the spyware that she was using on my computer was actually being purchased technically by my credit card. That was such a mess. I’m still dealing with it now and it’s been almost a year, just trying to clean it up.

The sad thing is, anybody is susceptible to this, it can happen to anybody. I mean, don’t think, oh, I’m safe, I’ve got this (spam blocker). It truly can happen to anybody.

How did you discover your identity was being stolen?

I was sitting up in New York when got a call from my mom in the middle of the night asking me, “What are you doing? Why are you buying stuff online? You just spent $3,000 on an Apple (computer), blah, blah, blah.” I was completely dead asleep, and it was 3 in the morning. I asked her what she was talking about and she said, “Get on the computer right now and look at your statements.” I got on the computer and it had all these things from all these different computer companies, different software and things. I was like, “I’ve never seen this before, I’ve never touched this. The only thing I ever bought online was shoes.” That’s how it all began.

How did they acquire your information?

This person sent a key logger onto my computer, which is a form of spyware — very similar to what terrorists use, scarily enough. The person can basically see a full mirror image of exactly what I’m typing on the computer and had broken into some e-mails between my mother and I and had gotten enough information through that. She knew my banker’s name. It was crazy.

What did you do then?

Finally, I had to pretty much shut everything down in order to get it all back, which, like I said, I’m still dealing with now. It’s like a never-ending, uphill battle.

How much did they steal using your card information?

I don’t remember the exactly number, but it was into the thousands. Luckily, the credit card companies are good enough nowadays that if you call and say “Look, I did not do this,” as long as you can prove it, they don’t hold you responsible.

Did they catch the thief?

They did catch her. It was a young woman. She’s actually going to be sentenced in Australia in May. She was doing it all through the Internet.

Did it have an impact on your credit rating?

As far as I know, no. I think everything is back to normal. For a minute there, it was a little bit of a scare, but as far as I know, everything is back to normal.

A tough thing to go through just as you finally come into some money.

Yeah. The funny thing is, this person started to claim that I had a bejillion dollars and was trying to extort money out of me, saying “I’ll give you back your information if you’ll give me $1 million.” I was thinking to myself ‘You have really lost your mind now, lady!’ (laughs) I don’t have $1 million just to go handing out to people. Pick somebody else, OK? Not me. But it all comes with the territory, so I can’t complain too much.

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