According to the FTC, American citizens lost $56 billion in losses in 2021. While this sounds huge on a global scale, the impact of these thefts on individuals and families is even more devastating.
So, how did this happen? Were these funds just lifted from their pockets? Were they robbed at a gunpoint? Well, if that was the case, it’s not a part of the statistic that we’re talking about. What happened to them is that they were victims of identity theft.
Here’s what you should do if you suspect that your identity is stolen. Here are what steps you need to take to avoid the worst possible outcome of this terrible situation.
Notify Companies of Stolen Identity
It all comes down to which items, accounts, or devices are stolen. For instance, if your phone is stolen, you can remotely lock it, track it, and even delete the data. If your credit card or ID card is stolen, you can make them invalid but you need to address the right company or government body. Now, even if your identity is stolen, it’s never every single piece of information that’s stolen. This is why you must first identify the type of theft, as well as the alienated part of your identity, and then address the institution in charge.
If someone is opening accounts in your name you need to notify the IRS. If someone is impersonating you more directly, you need to notify your healthcare insurance. All of this can be done quite quickly but you need to act quickly, as well.
Contact Your Local Police Department
Another thing you need to do is go straight to the police and tell them that someone is impersonating you or using your personal information. You need to leave a report and take a copy of this report. This way, if someone does something sketchy with some of this information in the future, you can easily prove that, at that time, you’ve already filed the information as stolen.
This is important since there can be a gap between an ID going invalid and the moment at which this individual does something illegal with the number. This paper trail is your protection of sorts. You also want to put the police in charge of tracking this malicious third party. It goes a lot easier if you put them on the trail.
Freeze Your Credit
One of the worst things that could happen to you if your identity is stolen is for someone to ruin your credit. Now, while they can steal the money that you have in the account, this is only worse in the short run. Other than just ruining their credit, this way, you’ll also be able to protect them in the long run. To know what and why you must take these steps, it’s important that you understand what happens if your identity is stolen.
This is an especially important method of protecting your children from identity theft. You see, if a child’s identity is stolen (their social security number, for instance), chances are that you won’t find out about this for years. By freezing their credit, no one will be able to open accounts in their name.
Dispute Fraudulent Transactions
The next thing you need to do is dispute all these fraudulent transactions and close all the accounts you know are compromised. You see, if you notice that someone is using your credit card without your actual card, you have 30 days after receiving the letter to react. For someone with a stolen identity, you can look for unrecognized accounts, hard inquiries, and personal information.
If the identity thief has taken a loan in your name, you need to contact that affected institution and let them know of the situation. They will want to see the police report (which is why we mentioned this earlier) and they might need another form of confirmation or two. Still, if you react quickly, you can avert the worst outcome.
Update All Your Passwords
Let’s not kid ourselves, we’re living in a digital world and you’re probably using both online payment methods and banking apps. This means that as soon as you believe that your account is compromised, you need to start changing your passwords. It all starts with your email. This is your first and last line of defense, seeing as how you’ll probably need it to change these passwords (this is where you’ll get a temporary code).
Another thing you’ll need is your phone (specifically your phone number), seeing as how some of these codes will arrive via SMS. Fortunately, there are numerous ways you can notice if your phone is hacked or not. Even if your phone is stolen, you can get a SIM card with the same number rather quickly.
Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
As you could have seen above, it all depends on how quickly you figure out that your identity has been compromised. Even if you know the procedure by heart, if you don’t respond quickly, there’s no way of telling how big of damage it will be. Sure, even if you can prove that it was someone else, you won’t get your money back and it’s highly unlikely that your credit will be repaired (it doesn’t work that way).
There are only two ways to ensure that you figure it out quickly and that’s to tighten security on your accounts and sign up for a credit monitoring service. You can get credit monitoring services for free but even if you don’t want that, the cost of credit monitoring is not that high.
Do Some Diagnostics
How did this happen? About 24% of all fraud consists of ID theft, so that’s a starting point. However, if your wallet or phone is not stolen, there’s a chance that you have a virus, malware, or some other malicious presence on one or all of your devices. So, do a quick scan and try to figure it out. This will not only help you resolve the issue but also protect yourself in the future.
However, sometimes a fraudster may steal your identity in the most uncommon of ways. For instance, they could go through your trash and dig out your credit card or bank statement. You would be surprised at just how much they can do with items that you so easily discard. In the future, it’s for the best that you destroy these statements (shred or tear them) before discarding them.
You also need to reexamine your behavior. Do you have a habit of using unrecognized Wi-Fi networks or clicking on strange links that arrive in your email? Do you ever check the address of the website that you’ve visited a hundred times? Both phishing and pharming are serious problems that need to be taken seriously.
In the end, the sooner you react the better. If there’s an instance that you believe has compromised you, don’t hesitate to address the authorities. Change all your passwords right away and carefully monitor your credit and your overall account activity. Later on, do some diagnostics to understand what went wrong. This way, you can more effectively protect yourself in the future. The simplest way to be safe is to sign yourself up for credit monitoring and take these reports seriously.
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