Protecting Yourself When Your Identity Is Stolen

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A few simple tips to survive a bad situation

The recent Equifax security breach has people reeling nationwide. For most people, identity theft is something that happens to other people. Careless people. Old people. People who don’t practice smart shopping habits online.

After all, if it can happen to me, it can happen to anybody.

In this case, with 143 million victims, it looks like it’s happened to everybody.

But all hope is not lost. In fact, it’s not even something worth losing sleep over. We’ve compiled some very simple steps that you can do to help protect yourself when your identity is stolen so you can rest easy.

  1. Contact the Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a government agency with the singular mission to protect consumers. Everything from data security to competitive marketplaces and deceptive advertising is all handled by the FTC, so if you know that your sensitive information has been leaked, you can go here to file a report.

Once you have filed the report you will have a government record on file of the theft, which is a powerful tool in disputing fraudulent charges. It’s usually quite simple; if the phony charge appears on one of your accounts (or someone opens a fake account using your stolen info), you can simply fax or mail a copy of the FTC report to the creditor to prove that it occurred after your identity was stolen, and they usually just drop the charges altogether. It can take time, and you’ll want to follow up with them to make sure they do so, but it’s not nearly as arduous a process as it’s made out to be.

  1. Monitor your credit scores

While we can’t endorse any one service over another, we can provide factual information regarding certain services, and say that Credit Karma provides free credit monitoring that is up to date and accurate. They do not require any credit card information and you will not be placing yourself at risk by signing up with them.

Once you’ve signed up for a credit monitoring service, check it at least once a month. Make sure your scores are consistent, and that any accounts listed are also accurate. If something shows up on there that you’re unsure of, they can give you details about who opened the account and when, and what the results were.

Just as a warning, though, there are so many agencies and banks and lenders that check credit scores that it can be scary to not recognize any of the credit checks listed. Relax. Check the dates and try to remember what you did at that time – chances are you’ll be surprised to find that everything is on the level.

  1. Join a credit protection agency.

Ironically, this article was published just back in June, so it’s about as up to date as you can get…almost as if they knew people would soon be looking up just such information.

Conspiracy theories aside, if you have the disposable income, a credit protection agency or service is a good idea because they actively search for your information and security leaks, and let you know when they find one.

One of our contributors recalls; “The last time my identity was stolen and I called the FBI to report it, I asked them if there was anything I could do to protect myself. He literally just said ‘Well, have you tried signing up for LifeLock?’” So while it’s not an official endorsement from the FBI, we can accurately say that they do (or have) recommend it.

  1. Make sure your accounts are secure

That same contributor also told us this story:

“I got a credit card in the mail with someone else’s name on it. The address was correct, and it was my account, but the name was of a complete stranger. I called the credit card company and they said a woman called them, said she was my wife, gave them my social security number, address – all the personal info they needed – and asked to be issued a second card on my account. Since she had all my info, they gave it to her, but sent it to me, thankfully. I revoked the card and added as many layers of security to my account as they would let me. Now there’s a series of questions, confirmations, and codes required to make any changes to my account.”

If you’re scared that your bank or credit accounts might be in jeopardy, call and change your passwords and add more security to the account. It is quick and painless, and you’ll get additional piece of mind from knowing that it’s there.

Identity theft is still a relatively new crime, but in our increasingly digital age it is happening with more and more frequently. This is one of those “you have to go through the bad before you get to the good” scenarios because, hopefully, the more it happens the more it will start to be taken seriously, and then investigated and prosecuted.

In the meantime, a few simple things are all it takes to help you feel better about your own accounts and their safety, so don’t wait! Protect yourself TODAY.

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