One of the most stressful and frustrating moments for a person is discovering their identity has been stolen.
Once a thief figures out a way to steal your personal information, they have all the power in the world to create mayhem on your credit, personal finances, and reputation.
If you’re searching Google for “was my identity stolen,” chances are that you’ve already seen some of the most common signs of identity theft and you’re running scared. But what do you do if you’re a victim?
What to Do When Your Identity Is Stolen
Upon discovering identity theft, you must react quickly. This minimizes the risk of adverse consequences. Below are some tips for stopping the identity thief fast in his or her tracks.
Alert the Credit Bureaus
Immediately activate a fraud alert with the three major credit agencies. Your credit report will have a red flag on it to notify creditors and lending companies to take extra verification steps before approving credit.
You can quickly report the fraud alert to all three agencies by contacting just one of them (Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion). Once an alert is placed with just one agency, that credit agency automatically reports it to the remaining two credit agencies for you.
Once you place a fraud alert, request a copy of your credit report from all three credit agencies. Once a year, you can obtain a free copy at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Review them closely, and dispute anything fraudulent you notice on them. You can do this when viewing the report online by simply clicking the dispute button.
Any hard inquiry on the report is not disputable, but you will see where the thief made attempts to get credit in your name. Initiating the alert is free and stays active for 90 days.
Alternatively, you can put a freeze on your credit. This keeps new creditors from accessing your information. All new inquiries for credit will be denied due to the freeze because they have no way of checking your credit information. If you need to apply for new credit yourself, you will need to remove the freeze.
Contact Any Institutions Affected
Once you know that the answer to your “was my identity stolen” search is yes, you should let your bank and credit card companies know immediately.
It’s extremely helpful to be proactive by maintaining a list of all your debit and credit cards along with the phone numbers to the institutions to contact.
Never keep any PIN numbers, account numbers, or passwords written down anywhere a thief can gain access to them. Keeping an encrypted file online is the best way to protect this information.
Contact the Police and the FTC
You should also immediately file a police report and theft affidavit with your local law enforcement agency. Retain a copy of the police report and case number for your records.
Next, report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov. They will advise you of important steps to take next depending on the kind of fraud committed.
The police department and FTC work hand in hand to create an identity theft report for you. The identity theft report is useful when dealing with the credit reporting agencies or creditors.
Report a Stolen SSN
Immediately contact the Social Security Administration as well as the Internal Revenue Service if your social security number was stolen or compromised.
Thieves can steal your tax refunds with this number. They might also gain health insurance in your name along with gaining employment in your name.
Notify the Post Office
If you know or feel the identity thief used the U. S. mail to commit fraud with your identity, contact the Postal Inspection Service.
This is the branch of the post office that deals with security and law enforcement issues. They can be reached by phone at 1-877- 876-2455.
How to Prevent Identity Theft
The greatest defense in fighting identity theft is a proactive offense. The more you do to prevent it, the chances are better of it not happening to you. Below are some good tips to minimize the risk of becoming a victim and preventing the dreaded “was my identity stolen” search in the future.
Social Security Number Lockdown
Never carry your social security card in your billfold or purse. Keep it in a locked case where no one can access it. Take caution with anyone you share your card number with.
Some places, like medical and dental offices, often ask for it, but they do not need it. It should not be used as a form of identification. Keep it private unless you are applying for new credit. Never give the number out over the phone or send it over email.
Prevent Phishing Attacks
With new technology, hackers and thieves can hack into your email relatively easy. What may appear as an authentic email from your creditor or bank may be fraudulent.
Never click on links to verify your account or personal information. Clicking on links can give hackers direct access to your information.
If you are unsure, call the creditor or bank to verify they need this information and ask why.
Never download any file links attached to emails unless you know exactly what they are for.
Practice Safe Online Banking and Shopping
Banking and shopping directly through your phone is convenient, but it can lead to identity theft if you are not careful.
Never use banking and shopping apps by accessing public Wi-Fi. Never allow anyone to see the information you are entering on your phone screen.
Protect Your Passwords
Use very unique and complex passwords for your devices. Change them frequently. Never use the same passwords and user ID for several different accounts. This results in the thief figuring out all of your account information if he or she figures out just one.
Always use a combination of numbers, symbols, and letters for each account. Complex passwords are never easy to figure out.
If and when possible, sign up for free credit monitoring. Identity theft is no fun. The more you shield yourself, the better you are able to combat fraudsters and identity thieves.