So, you’ve had your identity stolen. You’re probably feeling worried, lost, and angry. Well, you’re not alone.
Identity theft is one of the fastest rising threats in America. According to a study done by Javelin Strategy and Research, “There were 12.6 million victims of identity theft in 2012 in the U.S.”
Fortunately, creditors and government entities alike have recognized the seriousness of the threat. Hotlines have been established, recourse has been created, and options have been made available to victims of identity theft. You have help, and it’s only a phone call or click away.
Actions You Should Take Immediately
Your top priority is to let your creditors know what has happened. This way, they have a chance to work with you before the consequences get out of hand, leaving you with the blame for someone else’s actions.
Follow the steps below:
- Begin by contacting one of the three major credit-reporting agencies and place a fraud alert on your file. A fraud alert requires creditors to contact you before opening new accounts. You don’t need to call each of the credit-reporting agencies since the one that you contact will inform the other two agencies. They will also send you a copy of your credit report for review.
- Equifax – 800.685.111
- Experian – 888.397.3742
- Trans Union – 800.916.8800
- Document the delinquent transactions and activity. Collect all evidences you can of the theft and contact the police department. Filing a police report is crucial, but having documentations to reinforce your report is equally important.
- Contact the creditors of any affected accounts and ask to speak to their fraud/security departments. By working with creditors, they are able to mobilize their resources to protect your accounts, giving you added security in the process. It may even be possible to reverse some or all of the unauthorized transactions, protecting your assets in the short-term. The Fair Credit Billing Act requires that you follow up in writing once this contact has been made, so be sure to put this on your to-do list as soon as possible.
By completing the above three relatively simple actions, you will have given yourself a fighting chance.
Credit reporting agencies can recognize that new accounts or delinquent activity are not your doing, the police can utilize their resources to track down the perpetrator, and creditors can freeze your accounts to prevent further theft from happening.
However, while all of these measures can help you in the short-term, the best method of treatment for identity theft is prevention.
Plugging the Leaks
Once you’ve taken care of your short-term security, it’s time to move on to your long-term personal security. Begin by closing accounts for which the billing address was changed and request that future changes to your account require password verification. By doing so, you can prevent future thieves from redirecting statements and phone calls regarding suspicious activity from your attention.
Next, if it appears that your social security number was used to obtain government documents or apply for a job, be sure to verify that no permanent damage was done by cooperating with the respective agencies.
Since social security numbers can be used to falsify tax information, contact the Social Security Administration and verify that your reported earnings are correct. If it appears that your identity was used to obtain a driver’s license, contact the Department of Motor Vehicles and correct the matter. Doing so is important since a photo ID can be used at less scrupulous establishments to enable additional unauthorized activities.
Once these matters have been attended to, it’s time to look at good data security practices to batten down the hatches even further.
For all paper records, the shredder is your best friend. Documentation such as credit card offers, billing statements, and bank checks contain your personal information and should be discarded properly. you if criminals are comfortable with a little dumpster diving. Invest in a good shredder with the capacity to shred credit cards as well.
Look for a “level 3” security level cross-cut shredder, shred documents with multiple pages at different times, and dispose of the refuse in multiple receptacles for maximum protection. These steps may seem like overkill, but a short drive to the gas station dumpster is assuredly less of a hassle than unraveling the tangled web of identity theft.
Wireless connections are the next potential target for data theft. When using a personal wireless router, be sure to enable security settings and never leave your connection unprotected. It’s also a good idea to consider using a VPN to prevent snoopers, hackers, and other cyber criminals from viewing your web browsing activities, instant messages, downloads, credit card information or anything else you send over any network.
Many identity theft incidents occur simply because determined criminals used brute force methods to crack passwords. For this reason, good password practices are an absolute must for any connected user. The first rule of passwords is length: the longer the better.
The second rule is to avoid using actual words like “password” or “ilovemywife”. Longer phrases can be a bit more secure, but since the technology used to crack passwords queries actual words first, they remain less secure than the alternative. That alternative? Using mixed-case, grammatically incorrect or misspelled statements with special characters and numbers (e.g. “iL0v3myW1F3#14309”).
Since these phrases use less calculable logic, they become extraordinarily difficult for software to crack. The ultimate option? A password you don’t even know.
With all these things in mind, your best tool is possibly the simplest: awareness. Keep track of your bank statements and ask for an annual credit report. As many as 52% of victims recognize when their identity has been stolen by monitoring credit reports and keeping tabs on their bank accounts and credit card statements. Remember: it is always better to be proactive than reactive, especially when so much is at stake.
With all these measures in place, you can rest assured that you did your absolute best to prevent identity theft from happening again. Keep tabs on your information, protect yourself, and be careful what you put out on the Internet. It’s a big dark web out there, at least now you’ve got a flashlight.
Additional information from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC has a resource page that provides a lot more information to help you deal with the effects of identity theft. Visit the FTC’s Identity Theft Report page for more information.