Identity Theft

As technology continues progressing, so, too, does the risk of someone stealing your identity and making your life a financial nightmare for years to come.  

Once your ID is stolen, you could be on the hook for everything the thief does with your information, such as if he or she obtains a loan in your name or opens credit-card accounts in your name. If your ID is stolen, there are corrective measures you can take. But know that it is often not an easy process.  

Identity Theft Prevention Tips

Following are ways to optimize your chances of not having your ID stolen in the first place and steps you can take if it is:

  • Consider buying a shredder. Once you’ve opened your mail and gone through it, shred it, leaving no trace of your information. Make sure it is completely shredded.
  • It’s not just computers that thieves use to try to steal identities so they can access others’ bank accounts, credit cards and credit lines. Often it’s old-fashioned things like stealing from mailboxes or searching trash cans looking for people’s monthly statements, dates of birth, Social Security numbers, and the like.
    • To avoid theft from your mailbox, consider a locking mailbox with a slot through which the postal worker can insert your mail. If that is not viable, consider renting a mailbox from a reputable company with a location near your home.
  • Never carry your Social Security card or birth certificate unless needed, such as if completing in-person paperwork for a new job. If you carry your Social Security card or birth certificate in your wallet or purse and lose it or it’s stolen, you have opened yourself up to possible identification theft.
  • When creating passwords and personal identification numbers for your bank accounts or credit cards, don’t make them easy to guess, such as 1-2-3-4 or the name of your pet. Mix it up with digits, letters, symbols and use a mix of lower-case and capital-case letters. Change your passwords and personal Identification numbers on a somewhat regular basis.

What to Do if your Identity Gets Stolen

So what do you do if you take all of these safeguards and discover that, through monthly charges on your credit card you didn’t make or in some other manner, someone still got hold of your identifying information?

Contact Credit Bureaus

There are three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Trans Union, and Experian. Contact all of them right away and ask them to flag your file with a fraud alert and include a statement that creditors should ask for permission before opening any new accounts under your name.

Under federal law, you can get a free copy of your credit report every year from all three bureaus.  

Obtain & Review Your Report

The credit bureaus, regulated under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, are federally authorized and you must submit your Social Security number to get your report. Go to the Annual Credit Report website to obtain a report. “Security protocols and measures protect the personal information you provide,” the site says.

Check your report for errors, for example, charges to your credit card you never made or accounts that are incorrectly reported as delinquent or accounts that appear multiple times with different creditors listed. Get in touch with the creditors where errors appear and tell them the situation, and follow up in writing.  

File a Police Report

File a report with your police department or the police in the community where the identity theft took place, the Attorney General’s Office says. “Make multiple copies to provide to creditors as proof of fraudulent use of your identity. Some creditors may be unwilling or unable to remove fraudulent charges from your account until they have received a police report.”