We all know that sinking feeling that comes with an email warning that someone has attempted to access one of your accounts. It’s even more daunting when your bank calls to confirm there’s been unauthorized activity on your card. Now imagine that anxiety magnified when you become a victim of identity theft.
Based on a study conducted in late 2017, one in every fifteen people will have their identity stolen at some point in their lives. Usually, identity fraud is for the purpose of monetary gain, with identity thieves making use of a person’s identity to achieve their financial goal.
However, we have good news. Even though identity thieves will stop at nothing to get a hold of your personal information, such as your driver’s license or Social Security numbers, or your banking or credit card information, you can take action to prevent identity theft.
Keep reading to discover the 10 steps you should take if you think your identity has been stolen.
1. Isolate the Problem
The first thing you need to do is accurately identify the source of the problem and work from there. If you already suspect identity thieves have targeted you and your personal information, then it usually isn’t hard to pinpoint where exactly the breach has come from.
In doing this, you will be able to easily either confirm or deny your suspicion and take the appropriate steps forward.
2. Thoroughly Inspect Your Finances
Generally speaking, most identity theft leads back to money. After concluding that you have, in fact, become an identity theft victim, you’ll need to meticulously inspect your own money.
Obtain and review your credit card and bank statements for any activity that wasn’t authorized by you. This will enable you to either isolate the incident or identify it as something that has been happening since a specific date. Don’t overlook accounts that may not have been in use for a while but still have available funds.
If a problem is detected, contact the bank or other financial institution immediately and have the accounts frozen until further action can be taken.
3. Request Credit Your Reports
Checking reports from all three of the credit bureaus is a most if your identity has been compromised. You should check for any new accounts that you don’t remember opening, any transactions that you don’t remember making, or any other activity that looks fraudulent.
Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion will all send you a free copy of your credit report upon request, which makes this step a cost-free way to securing your credit and getting back to normal after your identity has been stolen.
4. Report the Issue
In order to fully recover after identity theft, you must report the incident to the federal government’s fraud department. You should contact the FTC and ask for the ID theft department, so you can begin the necessary paperwork.
The FTC will also be on alert for any similar cases that may lead to catching the culprit behind the theft in your case. In addition to this, they will also provide you with valuable advice on expectations and the best way to move forward.
5. Contact the Police
If money was involved or official government documents were stolen (driver’s license, Social Security or credit card, for example), you will also need to make a report with your local police department.
Fill out an identity theft affidavit and include the following information:
- The day and time the incident occurred
- Exactly how you learned of the incident
- Any proof you may have of the theft
This report will be used as a legal declaration that you’re not responsible for the stolen money or documents and that the case has been handed over to the authorities. This will also help you to keep debt collectors at bay and show that their issue is with the thief, not you.
6. Subscribe to an Identity Monitoring Service
This is something you’re probably going to wish you’d done sooner but it’s better late than never!
There are many services available that offer an identity monitoring service. This involves a private institution that keeps an eye on all activity surrounding:
- Your credit
- Your name
- Your address
- Your social media activity
- Your medical insurance
This is more a means of early detection rather than prevention but it’s still a valuable service to have on your side. It may pick up on recurring activity from the same ID theft criminal and help lead to his arrest.
7. Change Your Passwords
Regardless of what you have experienced, it is always advisable to make changes to all bank codes and passwords. You never truly know just how deep the insight of the thief runs and how much information they were able to obtain using your public information.
Bankcard pin codes and online passwords should be reset as an extra layer of protection against what the thieves may or may not have access to.
8. Contact the Post Office
This is often an important step that’s overlooked. Contacting the post office after identity theft is beneficial in two ways:
- You can confirm whether there was any attempt filed to change your address
- You can let them know to not accept any attempts to change your address
It’s pointless taking all the aforementioned steps to ensure the future safety of your identity and neglecting this one. If your mail is being redirected without your knowledge, the consequences can be dire.
9. Keep an Eye Out
After taking all the possible avenues of prevention and restoration, the only thing you can do is constantly keep an eye out.
After taking all the steps of restoring your identity after it’s been stolen, you should now shift your focus to falling victim once again to ID thieves.
Be on the lookout for anything that is out of place:
- Unusual activity or fraud alerts
- Any hint of suspicion on your credit
- Emails or calls you don’t usually receive
It will be a while before you’re able to stop looking over your shoulder wondering who knows what about you. The quickest way to peace of mind is to attempt to stay ahead of potential identity theft before it even happens.
10. Don’t Panic!
You shouldn’t beat yourself up about having your identity stolen or spend sleepless nights wondering if it will happen again. Don’t forget that 1 out of 15 people has gone through the very same struggle.
Instead of seeing yourself as the victim of someone using your driver’s license, Social Security number, or bank account details, be grateful that you’re not alone. There are structured and proven ways of handling each case for identity theft victims and, if you take quick action, in time it could be as if it never happened.
Keep calm with any fraud alert and take your identity back!