Identity theft is a sinister concept that can make you feel helplessly at the mercy of criminals. But it’s not true! In today’s article, we’ll equip you with the tips you need to learn how to protect yourself from ID theft.
If someone gets access to your personal information – say, your Social Security Number, address, and phone number – they can imitate you very convincingly, especially over the phone and via e-mail. This is how criminals gain access to bank accounts, deposit boxes, and more.
It’s easy to think that the problem won’t affect you if you understand personal security on a basic level. Unfortunately, the situation may be out of your hands. A lot of times, careless credit card companies, payment processors, and other third parties compromise your identity. This article will help you stay safe no matter what happens, though – so make sure to read through and until the end.
Protecting yourself by being proactive
Many people think that getting an annual credit report is enough to know whether their identity is safe and their finances – in order. This is incorrect. It’s strongly recommended you run a full background check on yourself once a year, because your name and ID could be used in all kinds of malevolent ways, both related and unrelated to finance.
You should also do several things proactively. For example, review every piece of mail you get very carefully for signs of tampering. If you believe that someone could glean important information about you from any envelope you receive, take whatever steps are necessary to secure your identity, your property, your phone numbers, etc.
Calling your bank and phone operator are common first steps. Moreover, make sure to never just throw out documents that carry any of your personal information. This includes pre-approved credit cards, partially filled out credit applications, mail that can point to data that identifies you, etc. You can also opt for an identity theft protection service, which combs through all the different vectors through which your identity can be compromised, giving you clear answers at a glance.
In addition to being proactive when everything is fine, remember to remain vigilant if you do become a victim of identity theft. For example, consider hiring a private investigator as soon as your research or that of your identity protection service uncovers evidence that your ID has been compromised. This will help make sure that the damage done by criminals is kept to a bare minimum. It will also maximize the likelihood of any losses being easy to reverse. Perhaps most importantly, a private investigator will be able to prove that you’re innocent tof whatever was done when it’s time to report to credit bureaus, the police, the DMV, etc.
If you don’t or won’t hire a PI, at least go to the nearest available police representative and state your case. The sooner you let someone in a position of authority know about what happened, the higher your chances of coming out of the whole experience unscathed.
How can I tell my identity has been stolen?
Below, we present 10 warning signs that your identity has been stolen. Just because one of these points applies to you, doesn’t mean all is lost and that you should panic. It’s all the more reason to take a closer look via an identity theft protection agency. Of course, if you find yourself nodding to several of these points, the urgency for running a check on yourself increases, as does the likelihood that you need to seek help from a PI or local authorities.
- Your bank’s fraud control department calling you to report or ask you about suspicious card activity.
- You receiving credit cards you cannot remember ever applying for.
- Card or bank account charges you cannot remember making. It’s important to be vigilant of these, especially when you share an account or card with a spouse or family member.
- The police calling you – sometimes from another state – to explain that you have somehow been implicated or designated as a person of interest in a crime.
- Checks bouncing when you’re supposed to have plenty of money in your account could point to someone else having cleaned it out.
- Missing bills or letters. If you didn’t receive a note you were supposed to get, there’s a fair chance someone else is intercepting your communications.
- Being turned down for credit and finding out you have an unexpectedly low credit score. This could be a sign of someone else taking out credit in your name.
- Seeing that your physical mailbox or specific letters have been tampered with.
- Receiving a post office notification letting you know your emails are now being forwarded to a new address.
- Finding out that your annual tax returns indicate more money than you’ve earned. This may mean someone else is using your Social Security number on their income.
Responding to having your identity stolen
First and foremost, make sure to shut down anything that could lose you money. If you have a large sum of money on a bank account or card, call the bank and explain that your identity has been stolen. Having done that, call any of the Big 3 credit rating agencies and relay them the same.
All credit agencies have to share information, so once you’ve done these 2 things, you’ll have ruled out credit and debit card fraud as well as credit fraud. Next, take a careful look at all your recent financial records. If you see that anything at all appears awry, keep note of it and report it to your bank, the police, and anyone else that gets involved in resolving the issue.
Once you’ve done the above, contact your local police department immediately. They may not be able to do anything, but in a worst-case scenario, they’ll be able to verify your actions with a paper trail and help back your claim in legal court and with insurance. Having contacted the police, file a FTC report by visiting identitytheft.gov and following the instructions that apply to your specific situation and scenario. If, after doing the above, you’re still concerned about financial theft and fraud, consider signing up for a credit monitoring service that will keep you abreast of any credit taken out in your name.
These steps may not be enough on their own – but your bank, credit card company, and local police representatives will tell you exactly what to do once you’ve done all of the above.
ID theft is a hot topic these days, and can cause serious anxiety for anyone at risk. Luckily, there are concrete actions you can take to shore up the security of your personal identity. We’ve laid out a solid foundation upon which you can begin to research your situation, and take preventative or restorative action.
Have you ever been a victim of identity theft? What can you share to help others who might be faced with the same situation? Let us know your thoughts in the comments below.