Coast Hills

5 Steps To Take If You Fear Your Identity Has Been Stolen

by Joshua D. Scroggin
December 13, 2016
ID Theft

It's important to be extremely careful when sharing personal and credit-oriented information online or when casually disposing of banking and credit information in the trash.

Unfortunately, there are many ways that nefarious minds can use technology to rip off the information they need to assume your identity, drain your bank accounts, rack up thousands of dollars of debt and leave you in dire credit straits.

Take Immediate Action if You Suspect Identity Theft

Sometimes, the effects of identity theft are visible immediately in the form of a denied credit card, an alert from a banking or credit institution or the draining of funds from a checking or savings account. Other times, it doesn't show up until you apply for a new loan and learn your credit score has taken a rapid nose dive.

Checking your credit score on a regular basis is one of the single most important things you can do to catch identity theft before it spirals out of control.

If you notice any suspicious activity or your score seems to have taken an unexpected dip, look into it immediately. Also, make sure you review banking and credit card statements each month to match the activity with your actual usage.

Here are 5 steps you should take if you fear your identity has been stolen:

1. Pull and print your credit report. When you go online to check your credit report, you will be able to print a detailed version. The details will disclose all of the credit activity that has taken place for the past seven years. This will help you highlight which activities are yours and which aren't, so you can move forward processing your identity theft claim.

There is no reason to pay for this report.

You are entitled to one FREE credit report, from each of the three credit bureaus each year. You can access these at Print all three to cross reference them - sometimes one report will show things that aren't listed on another. Your credit union should also be able to access your most recent, detailed credit history for review.

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2. Initiate a fraud alert. Now it's time to contact one of the bureaus and report a fraud alert. Do this via phone and speak with a real person rather than relying on digital reporting. Whichever one you call will initiate the fraud claim and freeze your accounts if you are willing. This second step does cost a little money, but if your identity has been stolen, it's better to prevent any further theft from taking place.

The credit bureau you contact will then contact the other two bureaus for you. The first alert will remain on your account for 90-days. If it turns out your identity has been stolen, the alert will last for a full seven-years.

3. Call authorities and obtain necessary documentation. Call the authorities before calling creditors and lenders to save yourself a step. Most creditors will want two different documents from you - the police report and an affidavit from the FTC - in order to begin their internal claims processing. Start by calling your local law enforcement agency.

Once you have a copy of the police report, you must also report the theft to federal authorities by visiting and moving through their Identity Theft Recovery process. You can also call the FTC Identity Theft Department to start your claim by phone at 1-877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338). 

4. Contact all credit unions, banks, creditors and lenders. Now it's time to speak with each of your creditors and lenders, including those associated with any fraudulent activity noted in your credit report. Each entity will have its own way of handling things so be patient and be ready with personal and detailed account information.

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5. Remain diligent. Unfortunately, identity theft isn't necessarily a one-time event. When and if possible, consider switching over to electronic statements so your paper versions can't be stolen from the mailbox. If you prefer mailed statements, consider getting a P.O. box to mitigate the chances of mail fraud.

You should meticulously review banking and credit card statements every month for suspicious activity. Finally, get a shredder and shred every piece of mail that includes your personal information so it can't be gleaned from the trash.

When that is all done, the FTC says that it takes about six full months for victims to recover from identity theft. Depending on how long it took to discover the theft, the number of accounts that were opened or affected and whether or not the information was sold to other thieves, it can take years for some victims to feel they are completely free of the after-effects.

Get Savvy to Protect Your Identity & Credit

If you are using the internet to shop - especially via mobile devices and unsecured Wi-Fi networks, beware.

Cyber criminals have plenty of digital tools at their disposal designed to access your personal account information so they can put it to work immediately. Unfortunately, in many cases, these thieves do not leave any traces behind.

Here are important tips to protect your identity when shopping online:

Never click on suspicious links

That email that comes from a banking institution, requiring you to "click here" and submit information to verify suspected fraud IS fraud. Never click on those or any other suspicious links. Tag the email as spam immediately and then call the actual institution in person to make an inquiry.

Similarly, be wary of clicking into flash offers or websites that seem too good to be true. They probably are. Stick to shopping from reliable sites that are widely used and trusted. The others are often hoaxes used to capture personal and payment information.

Never save payment information

Even reliable, solid merchants can get hacked (remember Target?). As inconvenient as it may seem, skip merchant offers to "save payment information for future purchases" and use one-time sales options to be safe.

Don't use public Wi-Fi networks

Respect the warning issued before you log-on to public and/or unsecured Wi-Fi networks. Those connections make real-time keystrokes accessible to others. Only use secure internet access for online shopping.

Create complicated passwords

We know, keeping track of passwords is a pain, but the more complicated you make them, the better your information will be protected.

DO take the time to create passwords that are unpredictable by using a series of caps, letters, numbers and symbols.

Be socially savvy

Don't forget that your social media accounts are public, even if you think they are private. Be careful about how much personal information and details are available via Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and others, so cyber-criminals have a harder time verifying they are you.

In most cases, respecting these five online shopping tenets will keep your identity and your credit score safe.

Don't let your finances become burdened with the heavy cloud of identity theft. Armed with a little knowledge and precautionary measures, your banking and credit score can remain unscathed.

Similar topics: Financial Fitness

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