When you hear "identity theft," you might think of someone in a ridiculous wig and oversized sunglasses pretending to be someone else. But would you know what to do if a malicious individual collected enough of your personal information to carry out bank transactions and make purchases in your name? Here's what you should do to avoid such an upsetting situation.
Once you’ve determined that you’ve been a victim of identity theft, keep calm, because there's a lot you’ll need to do and it's important to be thorough and methodical. Keep track of EVERYTHING you do, including the names of the institutions and people you contact, the date and time of your call, the information you receive, confirmation numbers, etc. Check if you have access to assistance in case of identity theft, or if coverage is included with your home insurance. Insurance policies often provide access to specialized assistance and, in some cases, a lawyer’s services. You may be able to claim some legal fees or costs incurred involved in restoring your identity.
Go over all the activity in your bank and credit card accounts to identify any fraudulent transactions and notify ALL the financial institutions involved. If an account has been compromised, the bank will let you know how to replace your cards, secure your account and get a refund, if applicable. If there doesn't appear to be any suspicious activity in your accounts, the bank will usually include a note on your file to warn of potential fraud.
Change all your card PINs (personal identification number) as well as your passwords for your email, social media and online banking accounts, since they're often linked. And whatever you do, don't use 1-2-3-4-5!
Reporting the theft will help you prove that the transactions carried out in your name are fraudulent (and may help the police catch the perpetrator).
The next step is to notify the two major credit bureaus, Equifax and TransUnion, of the identity theft. They'll include a "Fraud Alert" on your file so that any time a credit request is made in your name, you'll be contacted by telephone to make sure the request comes from you. You can also obtain a copy of your credit report so you can review any activity on your file.
Lastly, if your ID has been stolen (e.g. passport, driver's license), contact the appropriate government agencies to report the situation and find out how to proceed.
Once you've taken all the necessary steps, keep a close eye on your affairs. Someone who applies for government assistance in your name and has the money deposited to their account is a lot harder to detect than someone who is taking directly from your bank account. Read your mail carefully, even letters from institutions you don't do business with. If someone is using your name, a letter could be the first sign. The Fraud Alert you've placed with the credit bureau will also ensure you receive a call anytime a request is made in your name.
While we would all rather win the lottery than fall victim to identity theft, there are several things you can do to reduce the risk of having your personal information stolen.
If you don't have a passcode lock on your smartphone, set one up ASAP—your phone is a gold mine of personal information. Better yet, if it's an option, set up fingerprint or facial recognition to unlock your phone.
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