Looking for information on what to do if your identity is stolen? We know it can be a frightening time, but luckily it’s very possible to effectively mitigate and recover from the damages done–if you know how. It is the goal of today’s article to serve as a starting point for getting your life back on track after identity theft.
Now, how common is identity theft? A 2016 survey showed 41 million Americans have been a victim of identity theft. While it’s no guarantee you’ll ever suffer a stolen identity, these numbers are on the rise. It pays to educate yourself on what to do when your identity is stolen.
After all, identity theft isn’t really just about your identity. Anyone who has your personal data – like your address, phone number, Social Security Number, and more – can do all kinds of things by pretending to be you. This includes opening lines of credit in your name and exposing you to criminal charges. To make sure you’re safe from scenarios like these even after your identity has been stolen, keep reading all the way through.
What to do if my identity has been stolen?
So you’ve just found out or strongly suspect that you’ve been victimized by ID fraud. What now? Follow the process below to get the ball rolling:
Do your research/hire a professional ID service
First thing’s first: you need to minimize your direct financial risks by making sure nobody can access your money accounts nor take out a credit line in your name. The order in which you do these two things depends on your bank situation. If you have a small daily limit for withdrawing cash and making payments, or a small balance in any accounts that can be accessed immediately, you can contact one of the big 3 credit companies first. Once you contact Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion and let them know your identity has been stolen, they will immediately inform the other two agencies, preventing credit being taken out in your name illegally.
Conversely, if you stand to lose a large amount of money directly from your bank accounts and cards, reach out to account services at your financial establishment. Ask to close or limit access to accounts, and block or close credit and debit cards, and/or restrict iphone access to your accounts. Once you’ve gone through the above steps, consider using an identity theft protection service to check all the nooks and crannies of your identity (including how your SSN, name, DOB, address, email, telephone, and other credentials may be being used), or hire a private investigator. Among the worst things these measures can uncover are, abuse of your financial accounts, or opening a new line of credit in your name.
Beyond the above, much of what you need to do is going to be subjective and varies from case to case. One thing you should always do is file a police report. One reason is that a police report placed sooner rather than later is the best way to catch criminals and reverse the damage they do. Another reason is that a report offers proof of the fact that a crime happened. It will come in handy when you need to remove fraudulent charges and activities from your credit report and bank accounts when prompted to do so later down the line.
Should you hire a Private Investigator for a deep dive?
Put simple, hiring a PI is expensive, so you want to gain a general assessment of the damage done before shelling out. For reference, PI’s can run basic checks to help you uncover vulnerabilities in your identity network that run between $500 and $1,000. More comprehensive dives can easily soar to $2,500+. That’s why it’s always important to gather as much preliminary information if you’re not immediately aware of the severity of the leak.
When is it worth hiring a P.I.? The first scenario is when you definitely know your ID has been stolen. If this is your situation, an investigator can actually do a lot for you. They can help you figure out how your information was accessed and how you can prevent future leaks. They can help you track down the person responsible for the crime and help reverse some of the damage – or at least bring the offender to justice. Perhaps most importantly, a PI can confirm – beyond the shadow of a doubt – whether your ID really has been stolen if an ID protection or background checking service has left you in doubt.
What are the risks of someone else using your identity?
Below, we list some of the main types of problems that can happen if someone else gets access to your identity information.
- Account takeovers. This is the single most common type of fraud because it’s fast, profitable, and relatively safe for criminals. What happens is that someone else gets access to a phone number, bank account, or online account using your information. They then use this access to siphon money away from you, e.g. by using your number to gain access to your online bank.
- New account creation. Another popular type of identity fraud is creating new accounts, especially credit card accounts in your name. If this happens, you’ll be on the hook for a potentially vast sum of money. To prevent this, make sure that any background checking service you use to secure yourself and your money features credit rating reports.
- Employment and medical services identity theft. It may seem too bizarre to be true, but a person who couldn’t otherwise get a job or healthcare can use your information to get them on your behalf. With medical services, this can lead to problems with your insurer and a medical record that doesn’t reflect what actually happened to you. With jobs, it can be a problem because the IRS will likely come to you to get the tax money the fraudster owes them.
- Criminal identity theft. In this scenario, a criminal gives your information instead of their own when in trouble with the law. This can result in fines, penalties, and potentially even travel restrictions and time spent in court. This is arguably the most difficult consequence of identity theft because it can even make you unable to leave your state or country.
- Synthetic identity theft. This kind of theft is the hardest to spot and often calls for the help of a private investigator. Synthetic identities are also known as composite identities, and they’re made up of different people’s real-life data. For example, a synthetic identity might feature your Social Security number but someone else’s name, making it harder for you to find out you’ve been defrauded.
Identity theft is no laughing matter. It can easily result in money lost, a criminal record, and more. Now that you know how to protect yourself, what are you going to do next? Leave a note below and let us know!