When you hear "identity theft," do you think of someone in a ridiculous wig and oversized sunglasses pretending to be someone else?
It might be funny on the big screen, but when identity theft happens in real life, it's a lot less theatrical. With enough of your personal information (first and last name, address, date of birth, social insurance number, phone number, etc.), a scammer can carry out bank transactions in your name, or use your money to buy the latest video game console or a new wardrobe. There's nothing funny about it.
Here's what to do if it happens to you:
First of all, don't panic (easier said than done). There's a lot you 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 received and any confirmation numbers you receive. You should also check if you have access to assistance in case of identity theft, or if coverage is included with your home insurance. Insurance policies often include a clause in case of identity theft, providing access to specialized assistance and, in some cases, a lawyer’s services. You may be able to claim some legal fees or costs involved in restoring your identity.
Next, 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 PINs 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 Warning" 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 drains 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.
After reading this article, you're probably crossing your fingers and hoping it never happens to you. (When it comes to unexpected life events, wouldn't we all rather win the lottery than fall victim to identity theft?)
Luckily, there's a lot you can do to reduce the risk of having your personal information stolen. To use your identity, scammers need access to your personal information. Protect it well!
Here are some tips:
(If you're getting a bit paranoid reading this article, click here for more advice.)
Despite all these precautions, you may still fall victim to identity theft. Consider signing up for an assistance service or home insurance that includes support in case of identity theft. After all, identity theft is something that just happens to other people...until it happens to you!
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