Identity theft has become a major problem in the digital age. In fact, it is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the United States. It occurs when someone steals your identity and uses your personal information to commit fraud or other crimes. However, that doesn’t mean you have to feel powerless if this happens to you. Here are some things you can do if you find out that someone has stolen your identity.
What Can I Do Now?
Not sure where to turn after your identity has been stolen? Here are some actions you can take now to try resolving things.
Contact the Three Major Credit Bureaus
Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion: You can place a fraud alert on your account. This will put an extra layer of security on your account so that no one can potentially open any other accounts in your name without your permission. If you’ve been victimized by something like credit card fraud, contact the police so they can start investigating what occurred and whether or not there were any other victims.
File for Extended Fraud Alerts
File for an extended fraud alert system with each of the credit bureaus so that they will notify you as soon as anyone applies for credit using your Social Security number. This will protect against new accounts being opened in your name as well as other forms of ID theft such as tax fraud or medical ID theft.
Freeze all of your Credit Reports
Freeze all of your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus so that no one can apply for any new lines of credit under your Social Security number without first getting a court order to unfreeze those reports.
Review All Bank Statements and Documents
Review all bank statements and other documents in your name. Look for anything that doesn’t match your records and contact them if necessary. Whenever you get any document, make a copy of it so you keep the original safe. At home, make sure to store copies in a fireproof safe or locking filing cabinet or cashier’s box.
Report the Identity Theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC’s sole purpose is to protect consumers. In recent years, it has ramped up its resources for victims of identity theft. Report the crime to the FTC via its online form at IdentityTheft.gov, or by calling 1-877-438-4338. Include as many details as you possibly can. After your submission, the FTC will send you a completed ID Theft Complaint report and a personalized recovery plan to guide your resolution. Save digital and print copies of the FTC report. You will need this documentation to file a police report and to arrive at resolutions with creditors and fraudulent accounts.
Submit a Police Report
At this point, submit a police report at your local police station. Bring the completed FTC report with you, along with a copy of this law enforcement memo from the FTC. The police report increases the likelihood of the perpetrator being prosecuted. Even if justice is never served, the police report is still important. You will likely need to submit both the FTC and police reports to dispute fraudulent activities on your credit report or to correct your account history with certain institutions.
Report a Misused Social Security Number
If you believe the ID thief has access to your social security number, there are a few extra steps in order. If the card itself was stolen, request a new one directly through the social security administration. This service is free, so do not be tricked by third-party scams asking for a payment. If you suspect someone was using your social security number for employment purposes, review your social security work history by creating an account at www.ssa.gov. If you find fraudulent activity, report it through your local office.
Replace your Driver’s License
Driver’s license numbers are frequently used as a means of identification. If someone has access to yours, contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and follow their instructions to get a new license and license number.
Change All of Your Passwords and Account Info
If you haven’t already, assign new, secure passwords to all of your online accounts. Change your security question(s) if you can. Avoid using personally identifying passwords, such as your mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your social security number.
What Can I do for the Future?
To be on the safe side and prevent this from happening again, here are a few other good tips for avoiding these small disasters that can turn into big financial disasters:
- When shopping online or by phone, only use your credit card on well-known established retailers that have an excellent refund policy if something goes wrong. If someone steals your information, their ability to use it is limited when you only shop with credit authorized using a card that a thief can’t access.
- Avoid submitting any personal data through emails or other methods where it might not be safe to do so. Most of the time, information just sits there versus getting translated and encrypted into a transition (like an online transaction during a purchase).
- Always monitor all bank statements, especially accounts you’re not actively using. Thoroughly check your credit card bills monthly as this will allow you to shake out possible fraud before too much damage is done. Even one charge in an amount over the monthly bill amount, if over a certain threshold or coming out of an unusual place, can mean fraud.
- Search for (and read!) the Terms of Service or User Agreement papers for websites that you want to use (and be sure to read all of it). These papers, many times in fine print, outline your personal commitment to the service and if you agree not to do the things it tells you not to do. Surely, there are plenty of people who don’t always care about or pay attention to this! However, it’s important, otherwise likely risks are taken which can potentially come back to bite you as some websites may not have your best interests at heart.
- Try changing the password on information-gathering sites, and even with checking/banking-related ones as those require very strong passwords and different special unlocking codes.
- Turn on your operating system’s firewall and virus/spyware protection on all computers (especially when using a shared computer, consider using an online service like Disconnect).