Knowing what to do if your identity is stolen is extremely important. In today's world, it seems like every few months, there is a news report about a security breach. And these breaches have the potential to leave masses of people susceptible to identity theft and credit fraud.
One of the largest breaches recently was the Equifax breach that was estimated to have affected over 143 million people. That's almost 1/2 of the population of the U.S! Crazy right? Well, knowing that security breaches are bound to occur, here are some key things you need to do to minimize the impact and protect yourself from potential credit fraud and identity theft.
1. Check your credit immediately to confirm if your identity has been stolen
If you are worried about identity theft, check your credit immediately. You want to make sure everything on your credit report is as expected. You are entitled to a free report from all 3 credit bureaus each year via annualcreditreport.com. Many banks are also now offering this service for free with your accounts. Alternatively, you can choose to pay for one. The bottom line is that you need to stay on top of checking your credit to make sure nothing strange is going on there. If things are amiss, keep reading.
2. Alert the credit bureaus immediately
Alert the credit bureaus to report the situation and place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit reports to prevent any additional damage from being done. A credit freeze is also known as a security freeze. It allows you to restrict access to your credit report. This means lenders will not be able to access your credit to approve any unauthorized lines of credit until you remove the freeze.
You can get a freeze on your credit from each of the 3 major credit bureaus - Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. It's a good idea to learn how credit works and check in on your at least once a month regardless. Checking your own credit does not impact your score.
3. Get credit monitoring in place
Just because a breach has happened does not mean the identity theft or credit fraud will happen right away. It could take months or years for you to potentially be affected. Usually, when a company has been impacted by a security breach e.g. Equifax, they typically offer free credit monitoring of some sort for a period of time. However, there are several other companies that can do this for you as well. I don't blame you if you don't want to go with the company that has caused all the trouble in the first place!.
Having your credit monitored will alert you when your lines of credit are being applied for or added in your name. This monitoring will help you keep track of exactly what's going on with your credit. Keep in mind that even if you have a credit freeze, it's a good idea to still have credit monitoring. This is because the fraud could happen on your existing accounts which a credit freeze does not impact.
4. Report the theft to the FTC
As soon as you identify that your identity has been stolen, you should report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) right away. By making this report to the FTC, you'll get guidance on how to create a recovery plan. They'll provide you with guidance on how to:
- Close new accounts created in your name
- Remove bogus charges from your accounts
- Correct your credit report
- Clear your name of criminal charges
- As well as how to manage theft on specific accounts e.g. Government benefits, student loans, bankruptcy filed in your name, etc.
By filing and documenting this report quickly, you may also be able to limit your financial liability as well.
5. File a police report
Identity theft is a crime. Whether the theft is online or in person, be sure to file a police report. Having a police report can help support any claims you file to dispute theft. By filing a report, you may also be aiding the police in fighting existing identity theft cases. You'll also want to get a copy of this report to share with the credit bureaus, your creditors, and service providers to keep on record as part of your case file.
6. Change online passwords and pins associated with your financial information
It's a good idea to change the passwords or pins you have associated to change your personal and financial information as soon as possible. Sometimes it's hard to determine exactly what information was breached and so it's better to take all precautions. You can set calendar reminders for yourself to change your passwords every few months. Make sure that you create strong passwords that are not easy to guess. Also, avoid using devices you don't trust.
7. Contact your creditors and service providers
You'll also want to contact your creditors or service providers to report the situation. You can then begin the dispute process with them for any fraudulent claims made in your name. You can provide the FTC and police reports you filed to them as well to help further validate your claim. Identity thieves can set up services like utilities in your name and so it's important to contact your service providers as well.
8. Review your bank and credit card accounts and statements
Take some time out to review your bank and credit statements for any discrepancies. You may be able to catch the theft early by doing this. Especially if the transactions have not yet been reported on your credit profile yet. Be sure to also make your bank's fraud department aware of the situation.
9. Look for any fraudulent accounts in your name, dispute, and close them
As you review your credit profile, look for any fraudulent accounts in your name. If you are being contacted due to debt owed on a fraudulent account, provide them with your FTC and police reports. You can also ask for the details used to set up the account and file a formal dispute with them for any balances due. If you are able to learn more about the identity thief, you can report this information to the police and FTC. The FTC also provides sample letters to help you request that a debt collector stop collecting debts that you don’t owe.
10. Contact the Social Security Administration
If you think your social security number has been compromised, contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to file a report as well.
11. Contact the post office
Finally, be sure to contact the post office as well. This is to ensure that no authorized change of address has been filed in your name. This could occur if your taxes were fraudulently filed in your name by someone else. It could also occur if credit or service accounts have been opened in your name.
If your personal and financial information happens to be part of a security breach, don't panic. It's annoying yes, but if you take the above actions quickly hopefully you can minimize the impact on your finances. It's also important to take precautions even if you have not had your identity stolen.
Be sure to store your financial records properly and stay on top of reviewing your bank, credit, and service statements. If your identity is stolen don't stall on taking action. The sooner you start working on addressing it, the quicker it can be resolved.