If Your Identity Is Stolen
By Bernard Freeman
Data breaches, hacks and lost phones or wallets can wreak financial havoc
The Federal Trade Commission reports that as many as five million Americans are impacted by fraud and identity theft during any given year. This can lead to damaging financial issues, plunging credit scores and compounding stress. But there are a few tried-and-true processes in place that can provide some small amount of peace of mind along the way.
REPORT THE CRIME
If you have been the victim of identity theft, begin by contacting the Federal Trade Commission, either by telephone at (877) 438-4338 or online at usa.gov/identity-theft. Workers there will assist in completing a form verifying your situation for creditors, banks and other businesses. They will also help you establish an individual recovery plan based on the particulars of your situation. Keep in mind that some creditors may require a police report, so call local authorities next.
FOCUS ON CREDIT
The next step is contacting national credit bureaus like Equifax, TransUnion and Experian. Placing a fraud alert on your credit report with any of these individual bureaus is all that’s needed, since the others are notified. If the identity theft causes longer-term problems, you may need to share a copy of the Federal Trade Commission theft report with each national credit bureau in order to set in motion a special alert that lasts for up to seven years.
Contact the fraud department with your personal credit card and banking institutions. Tell retailers and other places where you have credit accounts what happened. Employers or potential employers may also have to be alerted, depending on your role with the company. Contact the related offices directly if you are a victim of IRS tax ID theft, unemployment identity theft or Medicare fraud. The National Long-Term Care Ombudsman Resource Center is standing by for those who have been victimized at nursing homes or similar facilities.
Taking part in some basic safety measures can help lower your risks. Never place your Social Security card in a wallet or purse. Be wary about sharing key personal information like your birthday, and keep your account number at the bank a secret. Pay close attention to your account statements, noting any sudden or unexpected changes. Avoid banking transactions when connected via public Wi-Fi. Carefully shred expired cards, credit offers, most receipts and related statements so key financial data isn’t at risk.