Identity theft is an increasing problem worldwide. Nearly 15 million people have dealt with the issue in the past year. When someone steals your identity, there can be unimaginable consequences that follow. Unfortunately, the repercussions of identity theft can last for many years. Because of this, you need to be proactive when protecting your identity.
Although technology makes it easier for your identity to be stolen, it also makes it easier for you to protect it. A quick search will turn up multiple ways that you can use to protect your identity. Ultimately, diligence and consistency will help you ensure that your identity is kept secure.
Determine if Someone Has Stolen Your Identity
Like most people, you likely have several bills that come in each month, either via mail or electronically. Typically, these bills are consistent and only change if you stop a service or pay off a debt. When your identity has been stolen, one of the first things the thief will do is change your address. When a new account has been opened using your information, they will likely want the mail sent to their home, which means the address will need to be changed.
The cessation of bills is a strong indicator that your identity may have been compromised. To help get to the bottom of what is going on, it would be best to reach out to the billing departments of the affected accounts to determine what is going on.
Unfortunately, with all the online options for banking and bill paying, not everyone places as much focus on their financial records as they should be keeping a close eye on both your account and the statements provided. There are several things you should look for when checking your account.
Transactions: Keep an eye on all your transactions. If you notice transactions that you didn’t make, you must reach out to your financial institution right away to determine where the charges are coming from. There is a chance that someone has been using your identity. When looking at your transactions, you need to focus on these things.
- Date and time
Keeping track of this information will help you know what has been going on with your bank account. If you frequently use your debit card, you will likely want to cancel the current card and get a new card issued. If someone has stolen your card information, they will no longer be able to do anything if it is changed.
One of the first indications of identity theft typically comes from a credit report. Credit reports may seem a bit overwhelming, but there are vital things that will indicate your identity may have been compromised. Several reporting agencies can pull and track your credit activity.
Personal Information: Credit reports are a treasure trove of crucial personal information. If you look at your report and notice the personal data is not entirely accurate, there have been changes; there is a chance that someone else has been using your account or information.
Accounts: A credit report lists all the accounts you have attached to your name. If you notice accounts that you don’t remember opening or don’t have access to, this is a red flag that someone has your information.
Score: One of the main reasons people check their credit reports is to find out what their score is. The goal is to have a high score. This indicates that your credit is strong, and you are not a risk to creditors. If someone has stolen your identity, there is a good chance that your score will either go up or down significantly.
Public Records: All public records attached to your name will show up on your credit report; this includes foreclosures, bankruptcy, and any other loans. If you notice any public record that you are not familiar with, you need to investigate further.
You will find your credit report is full of much more information than you may need or even understand, but it is essential that you keep a check on it. If you don’t know what you are looking at, it is best to seek help from someone that does.
What to Do If Someone Has Stolen My Identity
Perhaps you have gone through all the investigation processes and have determined that your identity has been stolen. Finding out your identity has been stolen can be an extremely emotional experience and may leave you wondering what to do and where to start. Here is what you need to do if you determine that your identity has been compromised.
The number one thing people tend to do when they realize their identity has been stolen is panic. Whenever anyone invades your personal space or information, it can be very emotional and leave you with confusion about what you should do. Staying calm and focused is going to be the most beneficial thing for you and anyone that is trying to help you.
Freeze Your Credit
If someone has stolen your identity, you don’t want them to be able to open any accounts with your name. By freezing your credit, you essentially stop them in their tracks. While it won’t stop the accounts that may be in process, it will block them from starting any new lines of credit.
You need to notify any companies that the identity breach may have impacted. By informing the companies, you will allow them to begin monitoring your accounts. Typically, they will freeze your accounts so no activity can take place.
Check Account Security
There are several ways you can secure your accounts, whether it be by adding passwords or two-way authentication; anything you can do to tighten the security on your accounts is essential. If you need help strengthening the security on your accounts, you may wish to reach out directly to the companies for help.
Involve the Police
While it may seem strange to involve the police in something like identity theft, it could be helpful to protect your assets. If there is a chance that your identity was stolen from a skimmer or other device, the police may be able to help by removing and tracing the device.
Enlist the Help of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Identity theft is a big deal and a highly punishable crime. The FTC can be the number one line of defense when getting to the bottom of identity theft. The FTC is not allowed to do anything with criminal charges, but they can give you a roadmap to help clear the way for you to regain control of your identity.
Credit Monitoring Companies
If your identity has been stolen, you should enlist the help of a credit monitoring company. The sole purpose of these companies is to monitor all activity that is attached to your name and accounts. If there are any red flags, you will be notified immediately.
There is a cost associated with credit monitoring companies, but it is worth the expense if it helps protect your accounts and gives you peace of mind. When you begin using a credit monitoring company after identity theft, it is recommended that you use the service for at least 90 days. Things should be starting to calm down with your accounts by this time.
How Long Does It Take to Reclaim Your Identity?
Going through identity theft can be an absolute nightmare that you may not feel like you cannot wake up from. The process of reclaiming your identity and cleaning up the mess that someone created will likely take up to six months. However, depending on the length of time your identity was being misused and the number of accounts that were made, it could take considerably longer.
It is important to remember that cleaning up a case of identity theft is something that is best handled by experts. While it is entirely possible for you to clean the mess up yourself, it will likely take much longer than if you rely on professionals.
Why Use Fraud Alert
Once your identity has been stolen, you may opt to use something called a fraud alert. These are provided by companies that exist solely to protect personal information. They do this by constantly monitoring any activity associated with your personal information. Even if you are the one opening an account, you will receive an alert. This is beneficial because it will let you know if fraud is being committed with your identity.
You must know that not all fraud alert is the same. Like many forms of security, there are different levels you may choose to use. The level you choose is strictly based on your personal needs and what makes you most comfortable.
Initial Fraud Alert: This type of alert is used if there is reason to believe that your identity has been stolen. There may not be enough evidence to prove theft has occurred, but there may be red flags indicating theft was possible.
The duration of this alert is one year and will require the user to renew the service at the conclusion of the year. Many people choose to extend the protection beyond the year to ensure they are fully protected.
Extended Fraud Alert: This type of alert is used if you are confident that your identity has been stolen. This monitoring service will stay in place for seven years without any charge to you. During the time this alert is in place, anytime an account is opened with your information, you will receive notice for verification.
After seven years, it is likely that the damage done has been repaired. Because of this, you may or may not choose to extend the protection with the alert. If you feel the need to stay protected, you will likely switch to an annual plan.
Active-Duty Fraud Alert: Unfortunately, active-duty military members are not exempt from identity theft. Identity theft can be especially problematic when an individual is deployed. When a military member is deployed, it is doubtful they will have easy access to accounts to check frequently. When this alert is placed, it will last for two years but can be extended for the entire time the individual is on deployment.
The unique thing about Active-Duty Fraud Alert is that it has an added layer of protection against receiving applications for new lines of credit or insurance. This means there are not going to be pieces of mail lying around, which could make the individual susceptible to identity theft.
What Should You Know About a Credit Freeze?
If you are sure that your identity has been stolen, you can choose to freeze your credit. When you freeze your credit, you have total control over the duration of the freeze and can lift it whenever you need to. Knowing that it cannot be moved when something is frozen may make you a bit nervous.
By freezing your credit, you essentially make it impossible for anyone other than yourself to open an account with your information. If you need to start a line of credit during the freeze or use your personal information for a rental or any other reason, you can easily reverse the freeze temporarily. There is no duration on the length of the freeze, so you have total control.
The thought of stolen identity is unsettling and can be downright terrifying if it has happened to you. The best line of defense is to be proactive when it comes to monitoring your personal information and accounts. This diligence is one of the best ways to learn if your identity has been stolen.