It’s one of the worst possible feelings in the world. You find out that someone, somewhere has stolen your identity and has used it to obtain credit, purchase a car, or go on a shopping spree. It feels as if you have been violated.
No one wants to experience the feeling of having their identity stolen but unfortunately it is something that happens. And because of this, it’s important to understand and know ahead of time what you should do, and the steps you should take if you are a victim of identity theft.
How Identity Theft Hurts You
The negative affects of identity theft are numerous. Your personal data is compromised and may be out there for any thief to use. They can use this information to open a new credit account, or even apply for loans.
Identity theft has the potential to damage your credit and hurt your chances at getting loans, credit or even a job down the road.
Types of Identity Theft
Not all identity theft is the same. In fact, there are three different types of identity theft that can occur. These include:
- Tax Identity Theft
- Child Identity Theft
- Medical Identity Theft
- Criminal Identity Theft
- Insurance Identity Theft
- Financial Identity Theft
Tax Identity Theft
This may be alerted to you when you receive a letter from the IRS stating that someone used your social security number to receive a tax refund. If this happens, there is a form called Form 14039: the Identity Theft Affidavit.
You will want to return this form immediately to the IRS and include proof of your own identity such as a driver’s license, passport or social security number.
Child Identity Theft
Were you notified that someone used your children’s information to obtain credit? You will want to call the company that the credit is from immediately. Explain to them that someone has stolen your child’s identity and opened this account.
You will want to explain that your child is a minor and under the law, companies are unable to start or get into a contract with a minor.
Ask that they close this account and send you a letter letting you know that your child is not responsible or liable for the account. Be sure when you call to take note of who you are speaking to and when you spoke.
Obtain a Credit Report for Your Child
Another way to find out if you have unauthorized credit accounts in your child’s name is to check your credit report. Each of the three-credit reporting bureaus has their own way of getting this report. It’s important that you contact each individually to find out how you can receive a report
Medical Identity Theft
Medical identity theft is when someone is using your name and personal information to receive medical services. Under the law, you have the right to request medical records in your name and review them for any errors. Make sure you call and contact all doctors, any pharmacy, laboratory or others to find out how you can obtain your medical report.
Criminal Identity Theft
This is considered one of the most common types of identity theft. This is when a crime is committed under your name. When the person is apprehended, they will provide law enforcement with all your personal information
Insurance Identity Theft
This type of identity theft is when someone steals medical information such as insurance information and receives medical treatment which is then billed under your insurance.
Financial Identity Theft
Financial identity theft happens when your credit card and even bank account information is stolen and then used to make purchases. Often those who steal your identity in this fashion will max out the credit cards or your empty your bank accounts. They may even try to apply for new accounts as well.
How Do You Know if Someone Steals Your Identity?
Check the following to determine if your identity has been stolen:
Bills: Do you see charges on your credit card statements or other bills that you did not make?
Bank Statements: Are there any withdrawals or charges that you did not initiate or expect to see?
Watch the Mail: Did you stop receiving a bill you usually got, or have you started getting a new one?
Credit Report: Review your credit report to see if there is any information or accounts that don’t look familiar to you.
What You Can Do
You don’t have to sit back and wait for things to sort itself out. When you are a victim of identity theft, there are many things you should do to help ensure things aren’t more difficult than they should be. These include:
1. Notify Your Creditors and Your Bank
For any affected accounts, it’s important to notify the creditors and the banks about what has happened. Shutting the accounts down should be the first thing you should do. This will help to stop any other illegal transactions from happening. Notifying and working with the banks can help to save you money in the future.
ATM or debit transactions that occurred may fall under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. But with this Act you will have to report any charges you didn’t make immediately. This can alert them that your card is being used by someone that is not you, and they will close the account before any other charges are made.
Speak with your bank or credit card companies ahead of time to find out what their procedure is for identity theft and reporting unauthorized charges. Sometimes there is a deadline for reporting these charges, or you may end up being exposed to full liability.
2. Place a Freeze on Your Credit File
When you are a victim of identity theft placing a freeze on your credit report should be a must. It will lock down all your credit information so it’s important to know that ahead of time. But, it will also prevent any crediting agencies from releasing your credit information to any new creditors.
Depending on the state you live in, you may have a fee upwards of $10 to place a freeze on your credit report. However, if you are a victim of identity theft, this fee may be waived.
3. Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
You can do this by contacting any one of the three different credit agencies. A fraud alert will then be placed on all three of your reports. This will last for up to 90 days. Having a fraud alert on your credit can help provide you with protection, but it will also put restrictions on you when applying for more credit.
4. Review Your Credit Reports
After you have placed a fraud alert on your credit file, you will receive a free credit report from all the three different crediting agencies. After you get the reports be sure you review them in great detail.
Review your credit reports for any signs of fraud that may have occurred, any accounts you did not open, any hard inquiries placed on your account that you didn’t initiate, employers, personal information such as addresses and phone numbers, and even your name.
You can then contact the crediting agency to file an identity theft report to have any fraudulent information removed from your report.
5. Get in Contact with the Federal Trade Commission
You will want to contact the FTC, or Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-438-4338. Most of the time, they usually investigate larger fraud cases. But the FTC also monitors identity theft crimes of various levels to see if there is a pattern that connects to another fraud case.
A report with the FTC can also help you when you need to dispute any fraudulent charges or have fraudulent information removed from your report.
6. File a Police Report
You will want to alert your local police that an identity theft has occurred. You may also have to file the report in the cities or countries that the crimes occurred in.
When you file a report with the FTC you will receive a cover letter that you can provide to local police to stress to them the importance of having a police report filed for victims of identity theft.
Your police report should be detailed and list all fraudulent accounts and charges. You will want to make sure you provide the police with as much information as you can and give them a copy of your stolen ID as well as the complaint that you filed with the FTC.
7. Send a Copy of Your ID Theft Report to Creditors
You will want to notify your creditors in writing that you are a victim of identity theft. This includes sending them a copy of your ID theft report. You will also want to ask each creditor to give you and the police who are investigating your identity theft case any information they have. You might have to fight a little bit to get these documents but be polite and don’t give up.
8. Change all Passwords to Your Accounts
You will want to make sure you immediately go in and change all the passwords to your accounts. Remember when changing them that you should try to avoid using passwords that are most obvious to those who may have stolen your identity.
9. Contact Social Security
The Office of the Inspector General should be notified if your social security number has been used in an identity theft. You can ask them for a copy of your personal earnings and benefit statement so that you can review it for accuracy.
10. You May Need a New Driver’s License
You might have to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles and explain that your identity has been stolen, especially if your driver’s license number has been used as an ID. You will have to get issued a new driver’s license number because of this.
11. Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
If your credit information was obtained in a data breach, you may have the chance to get a complimentary credit monitoring service. These types of services will watch your credit report for any suspicious activity and will even send you an alert if any new accounts were open.
If you are not offered a complimentary credit monitoring service, you should sign up for one yourself to ensure that your credit is being monitored. There are many reputable services available that can monitor each of the three credit bureau reports.
12. Opening New Accounts
You will want to speak with your credit card companies and banks to learn how you can best avoid any further issues or charges. This may involve opening a new account and closing the ones you have now. It can be a bit cumbersome to do, but it’s a necessary step to avoid any issues from those who have stolen your identity trying to gain access later.
13. Adjust the Settings on Your Accounts
If you’re lucky, identity theft may only be linked to one incident. However, there are some people who experience this as an ongoing issue. Once your personal information is out there, you really want to ensure you stay on top of things and monitor frequently.
You can help to do this by making sure you regularly change your passwords. Make sure you create passwords that are strong which contain a mix of letters, symbols and numbers in them. You don’t want to use the same password for many different accounts.
Another thing you can do is adjust the settings and security features you have on your accounts.
For example, there are some banks that will alert you if you have a transaction that comes through over a certain amount. If you aren’t really someone that often spends $300 or more in one transaction, your bank will alert you right away.
You should speak with them to see if they offer this service and if they do, you will want to consider the figure or dollar amount you wish to set it at.
Steps to Take Depending on the Type of Account
There are certain types of accounts that require different steps to be taken. These include accounts such as:
- Government Benefits
- Housing or Apartment Rentals
- Checking Account
- Student Loans
- Investment Accounts and More
If you discover that someone has used your information to obtain cable, water or electric services you will want to contact that utility provider. Let them know that someone has stolen your identity and ask them nicely to close that account. Be sure you take a note of the name of the person you talked to for later.
Beyond contacting the provider, you can contact the National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange or NCTUE. They conduct research. They can be reached at 1-866-349-5185
This one can be tricky, but if you think someone has used your information to fraudulently obtain government benefits, you will want to make sure you contact local law enforcement immediately. Speak with them to see what you can do to help fix the issue on hand.
Do you believe that someone is opening checking accounts in your name? You can obtain your own copy of your ChexSystems report. This will provide you with an all information on your banking history.
You will then want to review this report for any accounts you do not recognize. Now if you believe someone has been writing bad checks in your name, the first thing you want to do is to have the banks from the checks stop payment on the checks and close your account immediately.
Understanding Your Rights
If you are a victim of an identity theft, you have certain rights. These rights include:
- Creating your own identity theft report
- Getting a fraud alert issued to your report
- Getting copies of your credit reports
- Getting any incorrect or fraudulent information removed from your export.
- Disputing any charges you feel are fraudulent on your report
What About a Data Breach?
As careful as many companies are with your personal information, they may experience a data breach. When this happens, they alert you to the occurrence and let you know of your next steps and what you should do. There are steps you can take depending on that type of information someone got about you.
Social Security Number
If your social security number is being used, you may qualify for a free credit report. You can then choose to put a freeze on your credit to make it more difficult for someone to get credit under your name. Continue to monitor your credit report for any fraudulent information so that you can catch it early enough.
Online Account Login or Passwords
Be sure to log into the account they got the information from immediately and change the password. If you can change your username or login name, do this also. If you have used your password on any other accounts, you will want to change that password too to ensure you are fully protected.
How to Avoid Identity Theft in the Future
While sometimes identity theft can’t be avoided, there are some steps you can take to try to make sure your information isn’t stealing. They include:
- Do not give out personal information: Unless you are trusting of the person you are giving the information to, be sure to never give out any personal information to someone. This includes your name address, date of birth, social security number, phone number, etc.
- Opt out of Preapproved offers: You can opt out of any preapproved credit card offers by calling the three different credit bureaus.
- Protect your online activities: Ensure you are safe when you are online by setting up a firewall and virus scan on your computer. You may also want to include an anti-spyware program. These items can help keep you safe when you are surfing the internet, so you don’t run the risk of someone obtaining your personal information. Because of this, you will also want to ensure that your personal information is not saved anywhere on your computer or mobile phone. This can make it much easier for them to steal this information.
How to Stop Debt Collection on Debts You Don’t Owe
If you end up getting calls or letters from debt collectors for debts that you don’t owe, you will want to write to them within 30 days to inform them that your identity has been stolen, and you are not responsible for that debt.
Make sure to include with your letter a copy of your identity theft report and other documents that support your case. Contact the company where the fraudulent account was opened and explain that this is not your debt and request that they stop reporting the debt to the credit reporting bureaus under your name.
Be sure to write down who you spoke with as well as what you spoke about so that you have this information available to give the police or those who are investigating the crime.
Being the victim of identity theft is awful. You may feel as if someone has taken something from you that you cannot get back. The time you lost spent making phone calls, writing letters, filing a report and more can be frustrating.
Fortunately, you don’t have to go through it all alone. There are many valuable resources to help get you through this process. Between reporting the crime to your local police and to the FTC, you have done everything you can to help bring the thief to justice.
The other additional steps listed above will also help you quickly clean up the mess and get back to your life.