What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen
Every year, millions of Americans fall victim to identify theft, with ramifications ranging from inconvenience to financial chaos. When your credit card is stolen, initial panic quickly gives way to confusion about who to call and what to do next, and what exactly is at stake. A credit card alone is enough for a thief to make an unauthorized purchase. But combining your credit card with other stolen information like social security number or your driver’s license information can make it possible to take your entire identity for further financial gain. Being prepared with these steps for what to do if your identify is stolen can help so you’re ready to act fast and efficiently in the event of a data breach.
First: Report it
If your credit card or other personal information has been stolen, the first step is to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at www.identitytheft.gov. While this commission cannot prosecute and bring criminal charges, it does compile and organize information on claims to be used by law enforcement agencies. Adding to their database can help build the case against perpetrators. In addition, the FTC can provide further information and tools for recovering your identity.
Next, file a police report with your local police department, which may have a specialized unit that specifically handles identify theft and cyber security fraud. Again, while this may not be able to lead to a direct arrest, it does build a paper trail that can be useful in the future.
Two other entities you may need to report the theft to are the IRS as you use your social security number to file an income tax return and your identify theft insurance provider if you have one. There are many types of identity protection services and insurance coverage in case your identity is stolen. The bottom line: Don’t just replace credit cards or ID and move on. Make sure agencies know what happened and that a crime was committed.
Address your credit
Having your identity stolen can have serious ramifications not only for your finances but also your credit score and your health. Based on this, it is important to contact the major credit bureaus and let them know your credit cards or identity have been compromised. They can all place a fraud alert on your account. This free service tells future creditors to be extra vigilant in checking identification if someone tries to open an account using your ID. You should notify all three credit bureaus to be safe.
While you are on the phone the credit bureaus, you may also request a credit freeze. This makes your credit report inaccessible to anyone who requests it. This can add an extra layer of protection, as it shuts down any visibility into your account and credit history. The service is free, but each credit bureau has to be contacted individually.
Another important task involving credit is to get a copy of your credit report yourself and review it closely. Look for unknown accounts, suspicious activity, or anything that you know you were not involved in. Everyone is granted one free credit report from each agency every year, and you can access them by request at www.annualcreditreport.com.
Also, review your credit card and bank statements to look for unauthorized charges. Sometimes thieves start by making small charges you might not notice. Then, when they know the credit card or bank account works, they go for bigger purchases or withdrawals. Pay close attention and if you see anything that you do not recognize contact M C Bank or your credit lender.
Open new accounts and tighten them up
Once you have notified credit agencies and M C Bank about the fraudulent activity and taken steps to safeguard your old accounts from further breaches, the next step is to open a new credit card and bank accounts. This may involve getting new account numbers and closing current accounts.
With new secure cards, it is the ideal time to protect yourself and your new accounts with new processes. For example, if you have experienced a data breach you may be eligible for free credit monitoring services that will watch your credit reports for suspicious activity and alert you if they detect an account opening. Even if you are not offered a free account, it may be worth it to pay for this type of service.
Another smart move with accounts new and old is refresh your passwords. Some accounts will notify you to change your password after a certain amount of time, but others may never send a reminder. Now is a good time to call up all your online accounts and change your passwords, which is something you should do regularly. You should also have a system for generating strong passwords that cannot be easily guessed. There are password services that will create and store quality passwords for you.
In addition, other best practices for cyber security can help keep you protected in the future. These include:
• Do not use public wi-fi when accessing private accounts, such as your banking or insurance.
• Log out of online systems when you are finished. Do not stay logged in even if it seems like a convenient option.
Unfortunately, many people do not understand what to do if your identity is stolen until after it happens. Having a recovery plan for the unexpected – before it happens -- can help you better respond and keep your assets protected.