Identity theft is a serious crime that costs victims and other taxpayers millions of dollars every year. There are many ways that dishonest individuals steal the identity of innocent people across the United States. Victims sometimes unknowingly contribute to the theft of their identity.
The repercussions of identity theft are usually long-lasting and frustrating for individuals that have their identity stolen. There are steps that victims and potential victims of identity theft can take to minimize their risks, minimize direct losses, and possibly help apprehend the culprit.
Other steps likely help the victim get on the path to recovery, regain their own identity, and lessen their likelihood of having their identity stolen in the future.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft occurs when an individual steals the personal information of another person, and then assumes that person’s identity when obtaining a driver’s license, opening accounts at retailers, at credit card companies, financial institutions, and other businesses. Perpetrators of identity theft sometimes obtain medical care, or file a tax return in the victim’s name, attempting to get a tax refund.
They use a stolen identity to purchase homes, rent apartments, open utility accounts, take vacations, purchase big-ticket items such as cars, and major appliances. Some individuals commit criminal acts after first committing identity theft.
Take Immediate Steps After Discovering Identity Theft
Many people that have their identity stolen do not know right away. If the person that has their identity stolen does not regularly check their credit records, or does not attempt to open new accounts, the identity theft possibly continues for months, even years before the victim learns of the crimes committed against them. Children likely do not realize that they are identity theft victims until they reach adulthood, and try to rent an apartment, get utilities in their name, or try to open a bank account or credit account.
Taking steps immediately after learning about the identity theft helps minimize the risk of experiencing identity theft in the future. It also opens an investigation. Several government agencies work together to help individuals experiencing identity theft.
- Contact the three credit bureaus immediately. The credit bureaus are Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. When you contact the credit bureaus, state that you need a fraud alert on your credit reports.
- Ask for a copy of your credit report. You are entitled to one free credit report each year. Sometimes information from one credit bureau contains information not on the report from another company.
- Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as soon as possible. Do this at https://www.identitytheft.gov. Sometimes touted as a one-stop resource for identity theft reporting, and recovery afterwards, the site carefully walks individuals through the easy steps of filing the report, getting a recovery plan, and putting that plan into action.
- Change all PINs and passwords, even if you do not have confirmation of fraudulent transactions on those accounts.
- Do you know where the fraud occurred? The FTC Consumer Information department recommends contacting those businesses right away. Close fraudulent accounts immediately.
- Contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and Social Security Administration (SSA) as soon as possible if you discover that someone filed a fraudulent tax return in your name, used your social security number to obtain employment, or conducted business that requires using a social security number.
- File a police report, and get a report number. Company representatives likely require the police report number.
Take Additional Steps After Identity theft
If you discover one fraudulent account or transaction, chances are that there are other accounts or transactions. One way that people experiencing identity theft learn of additional instances of identity theft is after they receive their credit reports. Contact the companies at telephone numbers listed on the credit bureau reports. Explain what happened and work with them.
Companies send a fraud report to individuals that report identity theft. Complete the forms in its entirety and return it, following instructions provided with the paperwork.
Freeze your credit. Discuss this with the credit bureau representatives when you call to report the identity theft.
If you learn that you are part of a data breach, keep in contact with the company, asking what they are doing to protect you after the data breach.
Some people learn that the perpetrator of the identity theft is a relative or friend. If you know that this is the case, advise law enforcement officials, the FTC, and any other agency or company that you contact about the identity theft.
Recovering from Identity Theft
Taking initial actions after learning about identity theft is likely exhausting for some individuals. It is important that you engage in a recovery plan and complete requirements of the plan.
The initial fraud alert that you receive when you report the identity theft to the credit bureaus is free and lasts for 90 days. There is a nominal charge for extending the fraud alert. Extending the alert helps with your recovery plan.
Send written notification to every company, agency, business, or debt collector trying to collect money that you do not owe. Make a copy for your records. You need proof that you notified them.
What to do After Identity Theft Recovery
Recovering from identity theft is an ongoing process. Do not give up on the process of identity theft recovery.
It is important for individuals that experience identity theft to understand that the Internal Revenue Service, Medicare, and the Social Security Administration do not call citizens on the telephone, unless the agency first sends a written notice on agency letterhead about a future call. When individuals receive calls from someone claiming to be from a government agency, the person is usually trying to get the person to reveal their personal information for purposes of identity theft.
Never provide your personal information to anyone claiming to be from a government agency, your bank, or Credit Card Company. Typical fraudulent claims include the person saying that someone tried to use your account, and that they just need to verify your account number.
Do not stop working with agencies like the FTC after identity theft. They help individuals when identity theft occurs, during the initial recovery stages, and after recovery.
Regularly monitor your credit. Be careful about using sites that you do not recognize that offers credit monitoring.
Prevention is a critical part of protecting yourself after identity theft occurs. Identity theft protection services potentially offers assistance to individuals to protect them from initial incidents of identity theft and to protect those that already experienced identity theft in the past. The services provided by companies that offer identity theft protection vary from one company to another company.
It is important to note that identity theft protection is not the same as basic credit monitoring services. There are reputable, well-known companies that provide a variety of services, including email and text alerts, ‘dark web surveillance,’ comprehensive privacy monitoring, and identity theft recovery assistance if identity theft occurs. Some companies that offer identity theft protection also offer identity theft insurance, and other protections.
Scope of Identity Theft
Several government agencies report that millions of individuals experience identity theft in a given year. The Bureau of Justice Statistics reveals that during the year 2014, nearly 18 million people were victims of identity theft. Two-thirds of those individuals experienced a direct financial loss because of the identity theft.
Protect yourself from future identity theft by taking aggressive measures, including correcting the identity theft, pursuing a recovery plan, and considering identity theft protection.