Understanding Identity Theft
Identity theft is a serious crime. Imposters (someone who pretends to be you) uses your personal information – from your name, address, social security number, or financial information—to commit fraud. Typically, it involves a financial loss for the victim through unpaid debts, lines of credit, or opening accounts for services. Outside of financial implications, identity theft can also include criminal proceedings; primarily, the culprit uses your driver’s license or medical documents in a crime.
Key Signs You’ve Been a Victim of Identity Theft
- A collection agency contacts you regarding a defaulted or overdue debt you never opened. These defaulted accounts may include utilities, loans, or medical debt.
- You receive documentation in the mail about a loan application (denial or approval) that you never applied for.
- Credit card statements you used to receive by mail have suddenly stopped.
- A creditor contacts you regarding an application in your name. Alternatively, they contact you to confirm your new mailing address or phone number.
Fighting Back Against Identity Theft
- Try not to panic. Although discovering you’ve been a victim of fraud is never an easy pill to swallow, it’s not the end of the world. Make sure that you take a few moments to collect yourself and take a few deep breaths. As you’ll likely be without debit or credit cards for a few days, make sure you have access to cash emergency funds.
- Perform a background check. One of the easiest ways to see all of your information in one convenient report is by ordering a background check at CheckPeople.com. This website will pull all of your information, from financial records, addresses, employment information, criminal records, and more. You’ll be able to carefully review any new information that doesn’t match your identity (like a new address on file) and can report that to the credit bureaus. Many websites offer a monthly subscription to update the file and notify you of any changes to your report. These changes can be key indications of any suspected fraud; always investigate whenever possible.
- Contact your financial institutions to order replacement cards. Debit and credit cards are easy targets for hackers. They’re quick and easy to use, whether online or in person. Always replace any credit and debit cards immediately. If you notice unauthorized transactions, report those to the company too. Although many companies will require blocking the cards before sending you a new one, it’s a minor inconvenience compared to identity theft.
- Change your usernames, passwords, and email address. Although this may not directly link to your personal information, it’s essential to update your passwords and email addresses on file regularly. Many individuals will have banking and credit card statements emailed to them directly in place of receiving paper bills. By updating the information, you’ll make it more difficult to attach an email address to a specific account.
- Never open suspicious emails requesting updated information. Phishing is a popular method of fraud, particularly when it comes to accessing your credit card information. Hackers will send out legitimate-looking emails to bulk email lists, often purchased from scraping websites. The emails look like companies requesting account updates: address, email, payment method, phone number, or other identifying information. When users click on the masked link, a fake website that mimics the actual company is loaded. Any information entered is then recorded and used.
- Contact the local authorities. While this may not work well for overseas theft, it’s always a wise idea to report identity theft to local police departments. Having your information on file as stolen will give you the opportunity to fight any charges found on your credit card statements, as well as saving your name in the event of criminal activity.
- Always install an anti-virus program on your computer. With so many spyware, phishing software, and malware programs available, having a high-quality program will keep your information private and safe. Currently, programs are available for smartphones and computers, protecting you at home or on the go. Always be sure to exit any website indicated as unsafe online.
- Only use secure websites to purchase products online. While a new website may be legitimate, it’s often not worth the risk. When purchasing a product online, always look for reputable, well-known companies. Additionally, you can use third-party programs like Paypal to complete the transactions. Paypal uses encryption on its website, safeguarding your information. You’ll also qualify for dispute resolution and product guarantees.
- Invest in a paper shredder. We all know the benefits of recycling, but leaving information intact, leaves you vulnerable to theft. Only a few pieces of information are needed to secure new financial accounts, and it’s often in your recycling bin. Always make sure to shred any bills or identifying information before placing it in the trash. If you don’t have room for a high-quality shredder, contact shipping companies to ask them about their shredding services.
- Place notices on credit reporting agencies. When you’ve been the victim of identity theft, contact all credit reporting agencies to add a note to the file. Many times, reporting agencies will have a service to contact you before issuing new credit. Alternatively, you can temporarily lock out any new credit requests for a specified number of days. This approach may be handy for relentless thieves who insist on ruining your credit.