What to Do If You Fall Victim to Identity Theft
Identity theft is increasingly common – and just as frightening. When criminals get their hands on your most personal information, they can wreak havoc on your finances, your credit score, and your personal and professional lives. With nearly 17 million people facing the threat of some kind of identity theft right now and annual losses from identity theft totaling $16.8 billion, it’s a serious concern.
And every time you log onto websites, browse the internet, or even go about your daily life, you could be exposing your most important information. Small actions could make it much easier for cybercriminals to get their hands on your identity.
So, what happens when your identity is stolen? Is there any way to fix the damage that’s been done? Can you recover anything you’ve lost? Here’s what you need to do if you become the victim of identity theft.
How Identity Theft Happens
Before you can repair the damage that’s done when identity theft happens, it’s important to understand how this crime can happen in the first place.
Using today’s technology makes everyone vulnerable to cybercrimes and identity theft. But how can you avoid using your smartphone, your laptop, or your home computer? Everywhere you turn, identity theft is an ever-present danger. And that’s because cybercriminals are able to launch sophisticated attacks that access your information in subtle, sneaky ways.
Criminals commonly get the information they need to steal your identity in these common ways:
- From data breaches.
Data breaches are in the news all the time (just think of Equifax in 2017). And in these breaches, your information becomes exposed to criminals who’ve hacked into the data held by companies you’ve trusted with with.
Clicking on internet ads, unknown or unfamiliar emails, and other links that you may not realize have been sent by criminals or hackers is another common tactic. When you click on the link or ad, you’re prompted to either download software or enter personal information.
- Using unsafe or unprotected internet connections.
Logging onto public WiFi in a coffee shop or connecting to your local free internet gives criminals the opportunity to watch what you’re doing online. And they can easily collect passwords and other critical information this way.
- Mail theft or dumpster diving.
Criminals will steal mail right out of your mailbox – or out of your trash can. If you have secure information sitting in your mail or in a dumpster, it could easily be stolen without you even realizing it.
And once a criminal gets their hands on your information in one of these ways, they simply need to use it to turn you into a victim of identity theft.
Signs Your Identity Has Been Compromised or Stolen
How can you tell if your identity has been stolen? How do you possibly know if criminals have your personal information – or if they’re using it?
Stopping identity theft is as simple as monitoring your information. However, that isn’t an easy task. You can’t keep your eyes on your credit score, credit report, legal records, address changes, and even financial information if criminals are acting on your behalf, without you knowing. So, if you’re worried about identity theft, you’ll want to look for certain unusual signs of activity.
If your information has been compromised and identity theft is possible, these signs might begin to appear:
- Unexpected and unexplained withdrawals from your bank account.
- Transactions on your debit or credit cards that you don’t recall.
- No longer getting bills or mail delivered to your home address.
- Your checks are refused when used.
- Debt collectors are calling you about debts you don’t know about.
- Unfamiliar accounts show up on your credit report.
- Your credit score sees dramatic changes unexpectedly.
- You get medical bills for services you don’t use.
- Your medical records have changed and there are unfamiliar conditions listed.
- More than one tax return is filed in your name.
- You’ve been part of a data breach.
If You’re an Identity Theft Victim, Take These Important Steps Immediately
If any of the above signs have started appearing in your life, you could be a victim of identity theft. And that means you need to take action immediately.
Waiting and letting criminals continue to use your personal information will only lead to further damage. With your information, they could drain your bank accounts, rack up debt on your credit card, take out loans in your name, and even use your identity for criminal charges and medical treatments and billing. This could result in long-lasting financial and legal damage.
So, instead of worrying or wondering what to do, you need to move quickly. You need to take steps to stop criminals from doing anything else with your information.
Here are the steps you should take if you’ve become the newest victim of identity theft:
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Contact your local police department and file a police report.
- Notify the IRS, in the event it affects your tax returns or refunds.
- Freeze your credit and notify the credit reporting bureaus.
- Change your passwords on your most important accounts, such as your bank accounts.
- Contact financial institutions and freeze your credit and debit cards so new charges can’t be made.
- Review all bank statements and credit card statements to see if there are unauthorized charges.
And there’s one more important step you need to take. If you are already covered by an identity theft protection service, you’ll need to notify them. The company can then help you protect yourself, repair the damage that’s been done in any way, and help you fight back against the criminals who’ve stolen your information.
However, if you don’t have the protection of an identity theft protection service, you should sign up for one. It isn’t too late – even if you’ve already been the victim of identity theft. You can prevent future attacks and crimes by locking your information down and having it monitored by an identity theft protection service. And if you have yet to have your information stolen, there’s no better time than right now to take preventative measures.