A recent study confirmed that over 16 million people were the victims of identity theft in the span of one year in America alone, which resulted in $16.8 billion in stolen money. Identity theft is dangerous to your wallet and to your credit. Identity thieves use your information to take out loans, obtain credit cards, make purchases, get apartment leases and much more. Since these items are acquired with your credentials, these people don’t bother paying bills on time or at all. In the vast majority of cases, when your identity is stolen you’ll be held responsible for all the outstanding debt.
Warning Signs of Identity Theft
The Federal Trade Commission has outlined some helpful warning signs to know if your identity may have been stolen. These include:
- Unfamiliar bank activity on your bank statements
- Collection calls from debtors you don’t recognize
- Merchants suddenly declining your check purchases
- Unusual credit report activity
- Letters that you’ve been denied credit even though you did not apply
- Bills for services you didn’t sign up for
- Unusual lack of mail
- Medical claim rejections
- IRS notice that your refund was already disbursed
- Published news that a company has had their data hacked
- Your wallet has recently been lost or misplaced
The Dangers of Identity Theft
As you know, negative credit reports cause a number of problems. You may have trouble getting credit for things you need, such as a home mortgage. There is also the potential for serious medical consequences of identity theft. For example, if someone uses your identity to obtain medical treatment or prescription medication, this could lead to medical errors when you need to be treated. If you’re unable to speak for yourself, your doctors could miss allergy alerts, or assume things about your condition that aren’t true.
If you discover that your identity has been stolen, experts advise that you deal with the situation immediately. Don’t wait for something else to happen.
What To Do If Your Identity is Stolen
If you’re certain that your identity is stolen, drop what you are doing and take the following immediate steps.
Call Your Bank
The first thing you should do is call your bank; not your credit card companies. The reason is that your credit card purchases are protected. Depending on the company, you may only be liable for the first $50 or $100, if that. So call or visit your bank first. You don’t want someone emptying out your bank account. Speak to a bank manager about the issue and let them know you need to take out a sum of cash to cover your everyday expenses for a few weeks. Do this before blocking your account; otherwise, you may have to wait to be able to withdraw money from your bank. Next, ask the bank to freeze your account until further notice. Do this with any brokerage accounts you own, as well.
Call Your Credit Card Companies
The next phone calls should be to your credit card companies. Ask for the fraud alert department. Ask them to put a freeze on your accounts, and go over with them the last legitimate transaction you made. Anything after that would be fraudulent.
Contact the Place Where the Theft Occurred, if Possible
If you can pinpoint the first occurrence of the identity theft, such as a gas station, that may be helpful in apprehending the suspect. Contact the merchant and let them know what happened. However, don’t just leave it in their hands.
Call the Local Police Department
If the identity theft began locally to your knowledge, place a call to your local police department (not 911). Make a formal police report and get a copy of the report. Your credit card companies may ask for a copy of the report.
File a Report With The FTC
File a formal report with the Federal Trade commission. You can use this report filing to help your case in the event of denied credit in the future. This report will be especially helpful if your tax refund ends up getting stolen due to identity theft.
Report The Incident To The IRS
Call the IRS and report what happened. They can place your information in a database and give you a PIN number you’ll use for future IRS filings.
Contact Your Medical Providers
Next, contact all of your medical providers to alert them as to what happened. Try to ascertain if any recent prescriptions or treatments have been given that you have no knowledge of. Ask them to make a note on your file that your identity has been stolen.
Call the DMV
You’ll also need to contact your Department of Motor Vehicles. Ask them to confirm if there has been any recent activity with your driver’s license that you’re unaware of. It’s a good idea to go there in person so you can present your ID and face and they can confirm that’s the same information they have in their database.
Preventing Future Identity Theft
There are steps you can take to prevent identity theft from happening again.
- Review your credit reports often
- Consider enrolling in a credit monitoring service
- Balance bank statements each month
- Avoid verbally applying for store credit cards while checking out
- Be aware of others’ presence behind you when using ATMs
- Change online passwords routinely
- Use a private P.O. Box if you live in an apartment building
- Periodically ask to review your own medical records
- Keep track of the whereabouts of your wallet
- Keep confidential files locked up at home and at work
- Don’t carry your social security card in your wallet
- Don’t make online purchases using public computers
Identity theft can be ruinous to your life and your finances. When it’s happened to you, you realize how much work is involved in getting your life back in order. But if you take the preventive measures outlined above, you can at least do everything in your power to make sure that it won’t happen again in the future.