The Only Identity Theft Guide Victims Need to Reclaim Their Lives
If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you may recognize familiar feelings. According to people who have been through this agonizing journey, it’s like losing a family member or friend. But for those who have survived and come out on the other side stronger and wiser, a rainbow filled with courage, strength, and resolution awaits.
“Forbes” magazine contributor Laura Shin joined the growing community of victims in 2013 after discovering that 13.1 million of Americans suffered this fate. Since then, the number has jumped to 14.4 million, according to the 2019 Identity Fraud Study conducted by Javelin.
As a victim, you’re invited to acknowledge feelings of rage, frustration, and despair. But on the day you decide that enough is enough–and you commit to fighting back–you reclaim your power, acknowledge your loss and begin to heal, deciding that no identity thief on the planet will ever again impact your life.
What identity theft can do to your mind and body
According to Equifax, “the biggest emotional challenges victims face is loss of control,” which is why it is important to be proactive before becoming a victim and especially important after the fact. Therapist Dr. Nancy Molitor says identity theft victims can suffer physical and emotional reactions that begin with shock and may lead to loss of confidence, anxiety, and depression. If you’re the victim of a mortgage fraud scheme, fear can be compounded because your biggest asset is on the line.
Self-blame is a common reaction. Without taking back control and putting into place steps to make sure this doesn’t happen again, victims can feel hopeless. Relationships can be destroyed. But you don’t have to find yourself in this state if you face this tragedy head-on and adopt steps that put control back into your hands. In fact, you could emerge a stronger, savvier, and wiser person once it’s over!
10 Steps to take if you have become a victim of identity theft
Step #1: Freeze your credit
It won’t cost you a cent to do this says “U.S. News and World Report” Financial Contributor Maryalene LaPonsie. She explains that a lock is not a freeze, so knowing the difference is important. Locks are temporary measures.
Freezes last longer and while credit reporting bureaus once charged a fee for this service, that changed when The Economic Growth, Regulatory Relief and Consumer Protection Act was signed on May 24, 2018. This act stops thieves in their tracks so they can’t open new lines of credit in your name and you get on the road leading to credit repair.
Step #2: Put a fraud alert on all of your credit reports
This action takes very little time and once it’s in place, a single inquiry from someone purporting to be you will grab the attention of the folks at The Big Three immediately: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.
Next, call all of your credit card companies and advise them of your situation so they can be on the lookout for transactions that don’t look kosher. This is a particularly important step to take if you’ve been the victim of some type of mortgage fraud.
Step #3: File an Identity Theft Report
It takes just a minute to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can do it online (www.identitytheft.gov) or you can call the FTC’s Consumer Response Center at 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357) to register your complaint. Filing this report is one of the wisest moves you can make.
The FTC compiles and reports on identity theft cases and may be instrumental in taking enforcement actions if warranted should the thief be caught. The Consumer Sentinel, the FTC’s database, is shared with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, the IRS, 20+ State Attorneys General, all North American Better Business Bureaus and 2,300+ federal, state, local and international law enforcement entities.
Step #4: Call your local police department
Why involve law enforcement? Because it’s the smart thing to do if your unique situation fits these three criteria: you know the name of the person who stole your identity, your name and personal information was used by somebody during a traffic stop or if you had similar encounters in the past that involved the police.
In some instances, your creditors may insist that you file a police report to bolster future litigation should the thief get caught, so why not do it up front and get it out of the way? If your local law enforcement agency won’t take an identity theft report, complain to your attorney general’s office.
Step #5: Scrutinize every bank and credit card statement you receive
Applying due diligence to these documents can be the first indicator that something’s amiss, so do make time to review each one. Identity thieves, as Laura Shin discovered, are not geniuses, which is how surfboards wind up being charged to the credit card accounts of nursing home residents living in land-locked Nebraska!
Clever crooks will continue to come up with unique new ways to perpetrate credit card fraud, so you’ve got to stay a step ahead of them. Bank statements will reflect any unusual activity associated with the use of your debit card and payments you make if you engage in online banking.
Step #6: Open new credit card and financial accounts
Yes, it’s a pain in the neck–especially if you have had a credit card so long, you know most of the numbers by heart. But when your credit card company insists on wiping out that account and launching another in your name, they’re not doing it to be mean; they’re focused on credit repair and making sure you recover from this nightmare.
And while The Fair Credit Billing Act of 1974 says that cardholders can’t be held responsible for $50 in fraudulent or inaccurate charges, if you wait longer than 60 days to report the theft of your identity, you’re going to be legally out of luck. This is no time to channel your inner procrastinator!
Step #7: Change your passwords
Whether your identity was stolen because you found a great deal on a hammock on Amazon or you were creatively hacked, changing your passwords on everything offers you immediate protection from further risk. We live in “a hacking economy,” says CNBC.com contributor Chris Morris. You’ve got to get as creative as those hackers, he notes.
a) Pick a strong new password
b) Use multifactor authentication now being employed by savvy businesses
c) If biometrics is your thing, why wouldn’t you rather log on with a fingerprint rather than a password?
d) Using only one password for all accounts is a suicide mission. Unless you like suicide missions.
e) Investigate password resources like Norton, Dashline, LastPass and LogMeOnce.
There’s more. Don’t share your password. Journalists question everything, including information they get from their moms. Keep this in mind. Your mom could be hacked and if your passwords are stored on her devices, you know how this story ends.
Step #8: Don’t discount old-fashioned ways of protecting yourself
Carry your Social Security card or your voter’s registration card in your wallet and you put yourself at risk of having the most important information about your land in the hands of some bad characters. Keep your personal information off your social media accounts and don’t discount the potential for people to rifle through your garbage in order to see what tidbits they can find.
Using a cross-cut shredder to pulverize everything that is vulnerable (credit card offers, bank statements, utility bills, and even labels on prescription bottles) doesn’t take much time or effort and you eliminate the chances that you will be burgled substantively. Ask for a new Driver’s License number. Invest in a safe or rent a safety deposit box.
Step #9: Consider identity theft protection
Kate Ashford of Consumer Reports urges consumers who have had their identities stolen to think hard about whether identity theft protection is a wise move. It’s easy to be swept away by TV commercials promising to keep your credit safe, but not all of these services are created equal, Ashford warns. In fact, having credit repair protection can’t prevent people from buying your identity on the dark web and then using it perpetrates all types of credit card fraud.
Services can monitor your identity, but only up to a point. They can confirm whether your data is on the dark web, but they can’t do a thing about removing it. These services may help restore your identity, but it depends upon how closely you scrutinize the small print when you sign up. There are plenty of reasons for and against, so read every word and you’ll be confident enough to make a good decision.
Step #10: Don’t live your life in the fear lane
Yes, it is challenging to live in a world where keeping your identity safe is a constant task, but that doesn’t mean you should be paranoid or frightened 24/7. Folks who have had their identities stolen know that they have choices: Take every measure listed in the guide that starts with filing an identity theft report and continue to stay fearful or find ways to get rid of that apprehension.
Work out. Have fun. Enjoy sunsets. Like a death in the family, you will ultimately recover your equilibrium and be more resolute, strong, and smarter for having gotten through this experience. Who knows, you could wind up being a rock for someone else who is about to navigate the swampy bayou of identity theft!