Every year, millions of people are victims of identity theft. Identity theft can be considered anything from a complete stranger hacking into your accounts or opening credit cards in your name, to the unfortunate circumstance of a friend or family member using your information for their own personal gain. Either way, the results can be dreadful — ranging from personal bankruptcy to outrageous credit card debt settlement.
Unfortunately, no matter what you do to protect yourself, you may still become a victim. Data breaches are constantly making the news as numerous financial institutions and retail stores are being hacked into. We, as consumers, cannot prevent a rogue employee from stealing company information and selling it to others for profit.
Here are ways to minimize the risk.
- Keep your social security number protected. Your social security number should not be given out over the phone or internet to any business or person with whom you do not have an existing relationship.
- Beware of “phishing” these are e-mails from what appears to be a bank advising you that they need to “update your information.” It will look very official, and may even have an “official” logo. Your bank will not request that you turn over this sensitive information over the internet by e-mailing you a request. Your bank already has your information; they don’t need you to e-mail it to them again.
- Use cash where possible for smaller purchases. Sure, it is more convenient to make all your purchases on one card. But the inconvenience of dealing with the numbers on that card being scanned and used by someone else far outweighs the short-term convenience.
Has your identity been stolen?
Check out our Identity Theft Kit–which is a step-by-step guide with all the resources and documents needed in order to best reconcile a case of stolen identity. Find out more.
What to do if your identity is stolen
If you find out that you are victim of identity theft, here are some steps you should take.
- Report it to the police. The police are besieged with many similar complaints, and though they are not likely to apprehend and prosecute the culprit, a police report is of supreme importance in restoring your name. A local police station may be reluctant to assist you, but you must be persistent. Explain that you need to file the report, not to pressure the police to search for and arrest the thief
- Contact each of the three major credit-reporting agencies, Trans Union, Equifax and Experian. Notify each that you are a victim of identity theft and that you want a “fraud alert” placed on your credit file. Order your credit report.
- Contact companies that have opened accounts in your name that you know you did not apply for. You must advise them that the account was opened fraudulently. That company will most likely want you to sign an affidavit. Do so, and agree to cooperate with them in any manner you can.
What to look for on your credit report
- Accounts that you are certain were NOT opened by you
- Recent inquiries (access to your report) from companies you never contacted for credit
- Addresses reported as yours where you never resided. Immediately send a written dispute back to the credit reporting agency, notifying them of the wrong information, enclose the police report, and emphasize that the information is likely fraudulent.