How would you feel if someone else was living your life?
Identity theft is exactly that – someone else is using your credentials (social security number, name, and other identifiers) to take loans, get jobs, order products & services, or even apply for tax returns. And, in most cases, you have no idea of the situation until a bill you never filled for reaches you.
Identity theft makes you liable for the actions another person takes in your name, and it usually forces you to deal with the payments and damages they’ve incurred under your persona. Moreover, even though it’s quite common these days, identity theft it’s still difficult to track for authorities, which is why it’s crucial that you act as soon as you’re made aware of the situation.
Here are the main steps to take as soon as you make this unpleasant discovery and how to make sure it doesn’t turn your life upside down.
#1: Take Immediate Action
The very moment you start suspecting identity theft, file an initial fraud alert with a credit reporting company. Since businesses have to check your credit report before they can open a new line of credit, a fraud alert will put them on guard.
To do so, call one of the main three credit report agencies in the US (Equifax, Experion, and TransUnion), and inform them you suspect someone stole your identity. Each of these three companies has to announce the other two and is required to place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report.
You should also initiate a credit freeze on your credit report, which means that no bank or business can check your data without your explicit permission. This step will make it even harder for a third party to get a loan or any other financial service in your name.
#2: Assess the Situation
You don’t have to be a loyal customer of the dark web or shady sites to get your information exposed to ill-intended actors. Sometimes, you can do everything right and take all the recommended precautions, and have your confidential data leaked via a data breach from a company you use. Additionally, browsing malware-infected sites or following a link sent to you via email or chat can also result in identity theft.
Therefore, as soon as you identify something fishy with regards to your account(s) or start receiving calls or emails from creditors you didn’t know you had, it’s time to analyze your situation.
Start by checking all your bank statements and asking for a free copy of all available credit reports (you can use the AnnualCreditReport.com site for this). Continue by checking with your health insurance provider (some ill-intended actors focus on health insurance fraud) and other service providers who may be impacted.
Tip: To discourage any fraudulent activities on your accounts, perform a monthly check to assess their status and overall health.
#3: Get the Authorities Involved
As soon as you’ve identified the fraudulent actions taken in your name (using bank statements and credit reports), it’s time to file an identity theft report with your local law enforcement authorities.
#4: Stop the Damage
Once you have the identity theft report, you can use it to remove fraudulent expenses from your accounts and stop collection agencies from pursuing you for debts that don’t belong to you.
However, the process isn’t automatic and you have to notify each organization or business via phone or email. Now, depending on how deep the fraud goes, you may have a lot of people to contact, so it’s best to keep a written record of every call you make.
#5: Improve your Security
Most identity theft cases happen because of poor security measures, so it’s crucial that you improve your settings. Also, make sure to perform a thorough monthly check on all your accounts, to prevent any other fraud attempts.
Start by installing a reliable anti-virus solution on all your devices (including smartphones). This will help protect against ill-intended software, such as malware or spyware, which are specially designed to steal data.
Overall, it’s important to keep in mind that identity theft can happen to anyone. It’s not something to feel ashamed about, and it’s certainly something you can’t ignore!