Identity theft is when someone uses your financial and personal information without seeking your permission. The person may steal your name, credit card, debit card, address, social security number, medical insurance account number, or bank account number. These thieves use the information for many reasons, among which include:
● To open a social media account in your name
● Use your credit cards to buy things online
● Obtain a new credit card with your name
● Get medical care with your health insurance details
● Change their identity to yours when they get arrested
In this article, you'll learn about identity theft, how to protect yourself, discovering if your address or identity has been stolen, and solutions if it has been stolen.
Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft
There are several easy methods to take to ensure that your personal information does not get into the wrong hands. Here are a few straightforward ways to protect yourself against identity theft:
Protect Documents with Personal Information
This will include your medical cards, social security, financial records, and every other document with sensitive information about you. If you need to mail some of your personal information, it is essential to use a trusted post office. If you ever decide to discard these documents, it is best to tear them apart, shred them or even burn them. Another option is to use a marker or paint to block out the part containing your personal information.
Protect Your Social Security Number
Many people are often quick to give out their social security numbers. It is essential to ask questions whenever you're asked to submit your social security number. Sometimes, you might need to submit your social security number to your employer, bank, or IRS. A few other organizations need this number to identify you with.
Organizations that don't need the number include hospitals, schools, or other companies. Whether the organization needs it or not, you must ask specific questions before releasing the number.
These questions include:
● How will you protect it?
● Why do you need it?
● Can you use only the last four digits?
● Will you accept other identification options?
Protect Your Information on Your Phone and Online
Always use a strong password whenever you sign up to any platform online. You can also add two-factor authentication to all your online accounts. This offers more security because it will always request more credentials before logging into your account.
The bottom line is that you always withhold releasing your information to anyone online.
Knowing if Your Address or Identity has been Stolen
In addition to knowing the ways to protect your personal and financial information, you also need to be aware of when your identity was stolen. You can do different things if you want to detect identity theft. You can also pay for a credit and identity monitoring service from a reliable and trustworthy company.
Here are the things you can check to detect identity theft:
Review your bills
Check all your charges and ensure that they are for things that you bought. Any payment for items you didn't buy is a potential sign of identity theft.
Track bills you own and their due date
Pay attention to your accounts, and don't relax when you stop getting these bills. It could be a sign that your billing address has been changed.
Review your credit reports
Any account in your name that you don’t recognize is a sign of identity theft.
Check your bank statement
Be accountable for all the withdrawals you make. Withdrawals not made by you are a sign of identity theft.
What to Do When Your Identity is Stolen
Identity theft is likely one of the most prevalent scams in the world we live in. Whether you gave your address to a scammer or someone is using your address illegally, you’ll need to act as fast as you can. Early detection and action are always the best. Here’s what you can do if you feel like you’ve fallen victim to identity theft:
Notify Affected Banks or Creditors
This should be your first priority because credit cards usually have zero-liability policies for cardholders who are victims of identity theft. Report to your bank immediately when you notice any suspicious activity so that they can take necessary actions.
Use a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
You wouldn’t want your credit score to be negatively affected by fraud. The effect of this can be long-lasting, which is why protecting your credit should be on your priority list. It is worth mentioning that placing a fraud alert is free, and you can keep this on your credit for as long as you want. With this alert, it would be difficult for any fraudster to create an account with your name and address.
Check Your Credit Reports
Setting fraud alerts on your credit will give you access to credit reports. It is essential to always go through your credit report to check for signs of fraud. This will make it a bit easier for you to identify strange payment history, accounts you didn't open, an employer you don’t know, and other unfamiliar personal information. It is best to go through your credit report at least once a year.
Freeze Your Credit
This is the very best thing to do whenever you fall victim to fraud. Freezing your credit will immediately lock all your credit information. Credit reporting agencies will not be able to release your credit when you freeze it. What's more, is that you don't need to pay to freeze your credit. However, you will need to contact a credit bureau and tender your request.
After placing a freeze on your credit, you’ll be given a unique PIN to use whenever you want to lift the freeze. This is also a piece of information that you should protect.
Report to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission)
This is mainly for people in the United States, and to do this, you only need to fill a form on the FTC site or call their number and provide all the details they require. The Federal Trade Commission will give you an Identity Theft Report as well as a recovery plan when you do this.
Report to the Police
It’s always best to do this after reporting to the FTC. Doing this will also help to protect you from further damages. At the FTC, you'll get a memo that you can tender to your local law enforcement, emphasizing the importance of the police report.
One crucial thing to ensure is that all your affected accounts are listed in the police report. Also, ensure that you have authentic copies of all the information for your own record.
Remove Fraudulent Information from Your Credit Report
Contact all your credit bureaus after going through your credit report and ask them to remove fraudulent information from your report. Continually monitor your credit report and remove any fraudulent information that may be added.
Change Your Passwords
Affected accounts are usually due to compromised passwords. Your password should be a secret, and if any of your accounts gets affected, it’s best to change the password immediately.
When you create a new password, always try to be strategic. It’s best to use a combination of different cases, alphabets, numbers, and symbols. Your password should not contain any of your information, and it should not be a duplicate of a password on another account.
Replace Stolen Identification
You can request a replacement of a stolen social security card online. All you need to do is to send a notification to the Office of the Inspector General stating that your SSN has been stolen and used for fraudulent activities. With this, you’ll be able to create a new account with all your details.
For a compromised driver’s license, you’ll need to contact the Department of Motor Vehicles for a replacement. You can get a replacement for stolen passports at the State Department, and you can either do this by mail or online.
Monitoring and Recovery Services, and Identity Theft Insurance
Today, different companies offer identity theft protection services. This usually includes identity monitoring, identity theft insurance, identity recovery services, and credit monitoring. You can get these services from one of the following:
● Insurance company
● Employer’s benefits program
● Credit card provider
● Bank or credit union
Identity Monitoring Services
Different companies will offer this type of service, and what they do is to check through different databases that collect information to confirm their accuracy. With this, they can easily detect when someone is using your data.
Identity monitoring services can notify you whenever your information appears in any of the following:
● Social media
● Arrest records
● Application for loan
● Change of address request
● New cable, wireless services, or utility orders
It is worth mentioning that identity monitoring services will not alert you if your information is used for Medicare benefits, welfare benefits, Medicaid benefits, unemployment benefits, and social security benefits.
Identity Theft Insurance
Companies that offer these services usually charge more and their services generally cover the following:
● Paid legal fees
● Lost wages
● Out of pocket expenses like costs of sending documents, copying documents, and getting documents notarized
However, it is essential to note that they do not cover financial losses and stolen money. Always make inquiries whenever you consider using an identity theft insurance service.
Identity Recovery Services
Companies offer this type of service to help in fixing the damages caused by identity theft. In some cases, the services may attract extra charges. Also, some of the services they offer are things you might be able to do on your own.
The recovery services will give you access to a case manager that will help you with the identity recovery process. The services may also include the following:
● Provide a guide to help you in reviewing different documents
● Help you freeze your credit so that the thief won’t be able to open a new account
● Write letters to debt collectors and creditors
Some services will ask you to grant them the authority to act as your representative, especially when dealing with different institutions and creditors.
Credit Monitoring Services
These services will help you scan all the activities on your credit reports. You’ll receive an alert from them whenever any of the following takes place:
● A change in your credit limit
● A change in your personal information, notably your name and address and your phone number
● A lawsuit filed against you
● Records showing you filed for bankruptcy
● A debt collector or a creditor states that your payment is late
● When a company views your credit history
However, you need to be aware that there are special cases where you won't be alerted by these services. For example, you won't be alerted if money is withdrawn from your bank account or if your SSN is used in collecting a tax refund.
Here are some questions you should consider asking yourself before you consider using a credit monitoring service:
● Will I be charged whenever I review my credit reports?
● Is there a set limit to the number of times I can check my credit reports?
● Do they monitor all credit bureaus?
● What are the other services included?
Scammers Don't Have the Final Say
It can be very annoying and even disastrous when a scammer gets hold of your personal information. But remember, there is still something you can do if this happens. You don’t have to give up and leave them to do worse things with your information. Act immediately once you realize you have given out your information to a scammer.
In all things, prevention is better than cure, so take note of the options mentioned in this article to secure your information. If you need to mail sensitive information, be sure to contact a professional mail forwarding service that will ensure your information is secure throughout the mailing process.