Identity Theft-what is it, what do I do if I am a victim, how do I prevent it?
What Is Identity Theft?
Simply put, identity theft is when your personal information, like your name, your birth date, Social Security number, or credit card number, is used by someone else without your permission. Identity thieves may purchase a car, get a credit card, or make some big purchases using your credit.
How Does My Identity Get Stolen?
Your identity can get stolen in a variety of ways from careless disposal of your personal information such as throwing your credit card statements in the regular trash or giving your personal information over the phone to someone supposedly calling from your bank. Other ways include: changing your address by filling out a change of address at the post office that has your mail go somewhere else, or some posing as you to get information from your bank, or cable company etc. One common way to steal your identity is with online schemes like phishing where a spam email will ask for you to confirm bank account information. Services from companies like LifeLock are especially good at catching attempts such as these. Believe it or not, people confirm this information all the time and have their identities stolen. Bottom line, don’t confirm anything with anyone, unless you know who they are and you know that they should be talking to you.
What Does A Thief Do If They Steal My Identity?
One thing that they might do is commit credit card fraud. If could be that they open a credit card in your name and use but don’t pay the bills. Or they could change your billing address and use your card without your knowledge and never pay the bill. You may not know about either of these situations unless you have your credit pulled, or your credit card no longer works, or you stop getting bills.
If it’s not credit card fraud it could be bank or finance fraud. What this looks like is checks being written from your bank account that drain your account or bounce and show up on your account. An account is opened up in your name and the thief writes back checks from it. An all too common scenario is when the thief uses your identity to take out a loan to purchase something like a car, or a personal loan.
Other things that a thief might do is get a job using your name and social security number, or use your information if they are arrested, or get a driver’s license in your name. or apply for some type of unemployment or other government benefits or service. There are many ways to steal your identity.
How Will I Know If My Identity Is Stolen?
How you might find out that you are a victim of identity theft is that you get a bill or a debt collection notice in the mail that you don’t understand. Other ways that you might find out about your identity being stolen is when you apply for credit, such as a mortgage, or a car loan, or a credit card and you are declined. This can be a surprise and quite embarrassing if you think that your credit is perfect and you are denied credit. Another way to see identity theft is on your credit card statements or debit card statements and there are unknown charges that you can’t explain.
Can I Find Out If My Identity Was Stolen?
You might not like this, but absolutely one of the best ways to find out if your identity has been stolen is to pay attention to your financial documents. When you get your monthly statements, open them and look at them. Once you are done with them, use a shredding service and shred them. Dispose of them in a confidential way.
Another way to find out if you are a victim of identity theft is to pull your credit and monitor it periodically. We suggest at least quarterly look at your credit report. It might cost you some money to have your credit pulled this often, but do you think it would be worth it, if it prevented a lot of pain and hassle recovering from what a thief could do to your financial affairs if you didn’t check? At the very least, you are entitled to a free credit report every 12 months.
What Should I Do If My Identity Is Stolen?
Immediately, check your credit report and all of your financial statements for all of your accounts. Next, you should file a police report. Filing a police report and/or an Identity Theft Report could entitle you to certain legal protection with the credit bureaus, or credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian, Trans Union – and creditors.
The Identity Theft Report or a more thorough police report is used to prevent future fraudulent activity by limiting the amount of information visible on your credit report such as addresses and account numbers when your report is pulled either by you or by third parties with or without your authorization. To ensure that debts incurred during an identity theft incident don’t come back or reappear on your credit report or to prevent a company from trying to collect debt as a result of identity theft you’ll want to file an Identity Theft Report.
You should also immediately prevent additional credit on your credit report by telling the credit agencies to tag your account such that it requires you to be contacted via phone or mail to confirm establishing a credit account. And you should immediately challenge or dispute any unauthorized purchases or transactions on your accounts.
For more information on the Identity Theft Report and other steps and actions you could take to prevent additional theft and to recover from identity theft, contact the:
Federal Trade Commission’s website on Identity Theft.