Stolen Identity?That sucks big time. Give yourself 5 minutes to panic, and then get started on recovery.
First: RecoveryNo one can seem to agree on the best way to handle identity theft, so we wrote this article to help.
Next: PreventionHaving your identity stolen is bad enough the first time. Take these steps to prevent a second time!
Are you having an identity crisis? No, not the kind that causes last-minute decisions to get bangs or trade in your Honda Civic for a motorcycle. If you’re having one of those, the solution is simply to not.
I’m talking about the ultimate identity crisis: identity theft.
Identity theft is one particular risk of adulthood that makes me, and I’m sure millions of others, want to scream into the void. Because linking our identity to a string of numbers is already bizarre enough. Adding the risk of someone stealing those numbers and destroying your financial wellbeing is just too much.
No matter how much we hate it, it’s important to understand how identity theft works, know how to report identity theft when it happens, and minimize your risk of identity theft in the future.
*pours glass of wine* Okay, here we go.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information to commit fraud. This could mean applying for credit, filing taxes or getting medical services in your name. Why is it such a big deal? When someone commits fraud using your personal info, it can damage your credit history. And even though it’s not your fault, it can negatively impact your ability to get approved for credit, loans, housing or insurance.
There are four main types of identity theft:
- Tax – when someone uses your Social Security Number to falsely file federal or state tax returns
- Medical – when someone steals your Medicare ID or health insurance member number to get medical services or send fake bills to your health insurance provider
- Social – when someone uses your name or photo to create a fake account on social media
Children and seniors are most vulnerable to identity theft. I know, I hate it here too. Scammers go after kids, because children and teens typically don’t have their own finances and likely won’t know their identity has been stolen until they turn 18 and apply for loans. Seniors are a target, especially for medical identity theft, because they share their secure info with multiple doctors and caregivers. They are also more likely to give out their personal info over the phone.
How to Report Identity Theft
Even if you don’t fall into the highest risk categories, nobody is immune to identity theft. Even though we all hope it will never happen to us, it’s important to know what to do when the worst happens so you can act quickly.
First, know the warning signs that your identity has been stolen. If you notice charges on your bank statements for things you didn’t purchase, something is fishy. If you start receiving debt collection calls for accounts you didn’t open, trouble is afoot. If you are denied for loan applications, alert the media.
If you notice any of these warning signs, it’s time to report possible identity theft with these five steps.
Step 1 – Allow yourself approximately 20 minutes for the existential dread to set it. Then you can move on to pulling your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. You are allowed to pull one full credit report per agency each year without it affecting your credit score. Go through the report line by line and make note of shady or fraudulent activity.
Step 2 – Scream into a pillow. Then, immediately report the fraudulent activity on your credit report to all three credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion—who will place freezes on your accounts. You are not even close to being done, but the credit bureaus will provide regular updates on resolving your identity theft throughout the entire process. Check your snail mail every day, because credit bureaus will send you VIPs (very important papers) via mail. They will also provide login access to an online dashboard where you can keep track of how they are resolving fraudulent activity over the months (yes I said months) that it will take to straighten everything out.
Step 3 – Have a brief cry, followed by reporting your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at identitytheft.gov or by phone at 1-877-438-4338. This step is important so that the FTC can officially file your claims. They might not be able to offer that much help, but they should be able to provide an identity theft report and recovery plan.
Step 4 – Hyperventilate into a paper bag as you contact other relevant institutions. For medical identity theft, report to the Medicare fraud office or your health insurance provider. For tax identity theft, report to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). You should also contact the fraud department of your financial institution in addition to any company where a fraudulent line of credit was opened. This could be anything from a bank to a clothing store, but it’s important to notify each place so they can close the fraudulent account. Ps. closing fraudulent accounts will not affect your credit score.
Step 5 – Tell yourself it’s going to be okay, and then explore other resources that may be of assistance. In some situations, you may choose to report identity theft to the police. For example, if you know the person who stole your identity, they used your name in an interaction with the police, or your creditor requires you to provide a police report. You can also contact your State Attorney General offices for additional resources.
Step 6 – Take a deep breath. In some situations, you may need to replace your stolen documentation, like personal records, ID cards, or your birth certificate. This can be a complicated process depending on what documents need to be replaced. Use this step-by-step guide to replacing vital records to help you.
Remember, it can take months to resolve identity theft issues. I know it’s hard, but be patient and diligent with following up on how fraudulent activity is being resolved.
How to Prevent Future Identify Theft
After you’ve completed those five not-so-simple steps to reporting identity theft and restoring your
sanity identity, you may be a little on edge about preventing future identity theft. It’s not really something you want to go through twice. While there’s no guarantee, here are tips to keep your identity secure and prevent theft in the future.
- Keep your Social Security Number secure. Don’t carry your Social Security card on your person. If you are prone to misplacing things, I highly recommend investing in a safe box for important or confidential records.
- Don’t share personal information with strangers, people on the phone, or unsecure websites. This includes your address, phone number, credit card info, full name, SSN, birthday. I think you get it.
- Collect your snail mail every day. This one is hard for millennials to remember, but just listen to your mom and do it.
- If you have your bills set up with autopay, make sure you know your billing cycles. Check your bank statements regularly for fishy activity or irregularities in billing cycles and charges.
- Your phone has so much personal info on it, so make sure you use security features like complex passwords, pins, and 2-factor authentication to protect your information if your phone is lost or stolen.
- Buy a shredder for confidential papers and mail. Not only is it secure, it’s also very fun.
- Install a firewall on your laptop or home computer. If you’re
online shoppingworking from a coffee shop, remember to update your sharing settings when using your devices on public WiFi.
- Review your credit report once per year. You can do this for free through AnnualCreditReport.com. You can also request to freeze your credit files to prevent others applying for credit in your name.
- Find a financial institution you can really trust. A credit union is always a safe bet, because they offer better customer service, meaning they’re far more likely to personally help you when financial crises happen.
You Deserve a Financial Institution that Has Your Back
Credit unions offer more opportunities for people with damaged credit. Plus, you get member benefits like lower interest rates and monthly payments.