What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
As you may know, thousands of people fall victim to identity theft every year. In 2015, 16 percent of the inquiries the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received were linked to this fast-growing crime.
What should you do if your identity is stolen?
Following the steps below can help you contain the damage:
- Report it. Contact all of the financial institutions with which you hold accounts to report that your identity has been stolen. Get in touch with your financial advisor, call your credit card company(ies) to freeze or cancel your account(s), and contact any banks with which you do business so that they can set up alerts or restrictions.
- Change your passwords. If you’re not sure how your identity was stolen, a weak or guessable password could well be the culprit. Change the passwords and security questions for all of your accounts—e-mail, social media, bank, and so on. Be sure that your passwords for sites like Facebook, which have weaker security controls, are different from those of your financial and e-mail accounts. And check that the answers to your security questions are strong as well (i.e., not answers that could be easily found out or guessed).
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Setting up an alert with one of the three credit reporting agencies—TransUnion, Equifax, or Experian—can help prevent an identity thief from opening accounts in your name. To learn more, visit the FTC’s identity theft website.
- Request a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting agencies. Each report is slightly different, so order one from each company to check for mistakes or signs of fraud. Be sure to ask that only the last four digits of your social security number appear on the reports.
- Close any accounts that may have been affected. It’s much safer to close an account and open a new one than to wait and see whether an identity thief has accessed it.
- Alert the authorities. File a complaint with the FTC at www.ftc.gov/complaint. You can then take the FTC complaint form to your local police to file a report.
Ways to keep your identity safe
Of course, the best way to avoid the emotional and financial pain of identity theft is to avoid having your identity stolen in the first place. To help stay safe, follow these guidelines:
- Use a credit card for online purchases. Although using a credit card doesn’t guarantee that your identity won’t be stolen, you can dispute fraudulent charges made to your account. (This usually isn’t possible with debit cards.)
- Only make purchases from secure websites (i.e., those with addresses that begin with “https”).
- Keep tabs on your social security card. Never carry your card around or keep it in your wallet. If you ever lose it, you’ll be an easy target for identity thieves.
- When in doubt, shred it. Shred all documents that contain sensitive information. If you aren’t sure whether a document is sensitive or not, just shred it!
- Monitor your credit reports. You’re entitled to three free credit reports per year, one from each of the credit reporting companies. Monitor your reports for any suspicious activity, no matter how small.
- Never respond to e-mails, texts, or phone calls that ask for personal information. Identity thieves often pose as trusted businesses or financial institutions. To verify that a request for your personal information is legitimate, contact the company directly.
- Be wary of public wireless networks. Never use public Wi-Fi to access, send, or receive sensitive information in any format. Don’t use a public network to log into any account (such as e-mail or financial accounts) that contains sensitive or personal information.
- Keep your computer up to date. Be sure that all of your computer programs are current.
You’ve likely heard some of these tips before, but are you following them daily? It’s easy to think that identity theft won’t happen to you. Given the crime’s serious consequences, however, playing it safe is always your best bet.
© 2017 Commonwealth Financial Network