Your identity has therefore been stolen. What should you do next?
The important consequence for any victim of identity theft is that fraudsters can now use their details to commit crimes. Learning that you have been a victim is deeply personal. Discovering that your identity has been used for other crimes can also put you in a corner. You should get professional support if the experience has affected you emotionally.
But what do you really need to do now? What if you’re not a victim, but want to prepare? Here’s how to recover your identity and back it up again in the future.
My Identity Has Been Stolen: Now What?
In 2018, the The US Department of Justice reported that approximately 23 million Americans have been victims of identity theft. Needless to say, this is a huge problem. The Federal Trade Commission runs a identity recovery service that helps you based on your particular situation. But, in general, recovering your identity will usually involve these seven steps.
File a police report
You must report it. Identity theft is a big problem, but you don’t have to dial 911. Instead, call the non-emergency phone number of the law enforcement agency that serves your municipality.
This could be a police department or the sheriff’s office. The number will be on the contact us page of the agency’s official website. You can get this official site by doing a Google search for “[law enforcement agency name] official site.”
When you call this number, tell the administrative agent that you want to report a case of identity theft. They will forward your call to a detective who you can talk to. You may also need to go to the agency in person to get a physical copy of the police report. This document will help you in the next steps of recovering your identity.
Contact your bank and other financial institutions
This step is important; you should do it right after that phone call to the police. Call your bank and tell them you’ve been the victim of identity theft. Call your account manager directly if you have their contact information. Otherwise, visit your bank’s official website and go to the “contact us” page. Look for “report fraud” numbers.
Calling customer service is notoriously slow. You can get faster support if you use the live chat option. And when contacting a support agent, cut to the chase. A good start is: “Hello, my name is Richard and I have reason to believe that someone has stolen my identity. I’m asking for your help. I want to temporarily freeze my account.
Your bank will immediately stop all pending and future charges to your account and credit cards. It is best to immediately contact all banks and financial institutions where you have accounts. Why? Because your information may have been compromised in several ways. The scammer can move on to other accounts once they realize you’re on them.
Change your login information online
You should change your online login information, especially if your identity has been compromised on an online platform. Start by changing your app passwords and PINs. Next, change the passwords for your social media accounts.
Avoid reusing old passwords. Instead, use a password manager to create strong passwords and save them. Also enable multi-factor authentication on all your accounts. This provides another level of protection, so even if someone finds out your login credentials, there’s another barrier before entry.
You don’t have to change passwords for all your online accounts in one day. Instead, make a list of priorities. Start with your banking app passwords. Do you reuse this password elsewhere? Change these destinations as well. Likewise, any platform with financial details.
Next, move on to your main social media accounts. You can move on to the next steps to recover your identity. Don’t forget to set a reminder to change passwords for other online accounts.
Collect evidence of identity theft
Fraudsters may have used your personal information to open a bank account, take out a loan, order a new credit card, or collect government benefits. You probably discovered identity theft when you saw something unexpected on your account statement or received a strange letter from a service provider. These are useful proofs.
So print or screenshot emails; make copies of financial statements or reports; and make copies of other relevant documents. The more, the better. These documents will prove that you did not commit fraud yourself. They will also help investigators review your case more quickly.
Contact your credit agency
Contact Experian, TransUnion or Equifax to place a fraud alert on your behalf. This step is especially important if a fraudster has access to your credit report, social security number, or other information needed to open lines of credit on your behalf. These can potentially ruin your credit score if left unchecked.
A fraud alert is an added layer of security to prevent anyone from taking out instant loans on your behalf. The Fraud Alert does not affect you or your credit score. You can still apply for loans, but a creditor must confirm your identity before approving anything.
File an identity theft report
You will need the identity theft statement to insulate you from criminal and civil liabilities. The report is essentially a dossier of letters from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). These letters will come in handy when you need to get refunds or dispute fraudulent charges from your bank, credit card company, utility company, or other service providers.
Change your government credentials
Important pieces of identification that you will need to change are your social security card, driver’s license and international passport. The social security administration has a support page with the instructions and forms you’ll need to change your SSN. Similarly, the State Department has a help page to change passport. The numbers for these IDs will change when you replace them, rendering the stolen ones useless.
However, the process is different for your driver’s license. You will need to contact your local DMV for this. You may apply online or need to make an appointment with the DMV, depending on where you live.
How do criminals steal your identity?
The means by which cybercriminals can obtain enough information to steal your identity can be simple or complex. Here are three ways criminals can get your information.
Someone rummages through your trash for specific financial documents such as pay stubs, account statements, receipts and letters. As a general rule, destroy all documents containing information about you and your finances.
Besides cash, many people also store their important government IDs and bank cards in their wallets. The information on these cards can do considerable damage in the wrong hands.
Data breaches and phishing
The most technical way cybercriminals obtain your information for identity theft is through data breaches. These data breaches can result from hacking your computer or companies with your data. Similarly, phishing often targets not only your money, but also your data.
While you can’t do much about your information in the hands of a third-party company (except to make sure they store it securely), you can protect the data on your devices. Disk encryption is a good place to start.
You should also monitor important updates on your devices, especially security patches. Likewise, it is possible to spot phishing attempts and stay away.
Identity theft: you are not helpless
Feeling anxious when you find out your identity has been stolen is normal, but you are not helpless. There are resources to help you recover your identity, recover stolen money, and prevent future thefts. The important thing is to keep a cool head and not panic.