Sure, It’s No Fun, but You Can Survive Identity Theft With These Easy Steps

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Just about every time you turn on the news, you hear a story about how bad guys may have gotten your personal information.

Another store has leaked credit card information. Phone scammers are trying to sucker you into saying “yes.” The IRS is battling scammers trying to get your tax information.

The bad guys put so much time, effort and ingenuity into finding creative ways to steal your identity, I can only imagine what they could accomplish if they used their brain power for the greater good.

If identity theft happens to you, don’t freak out. It’s not good, but you do have resources that can help fix your situation and possibly even reclaim some of your lost money.

What Is Identity Theft?

Legal Dictionary defines identity theft as “the act of stealing another person’s personal identifying information in order to gain access to his financial resources, or obtain access to other benefits, such as money, credit, or insurance benefits.”

In other words, the bad guys have your personal information and can use it to gain access to your accounts, open new accounts or even take out loans in your name.

Or perhaps someone uses your identity to conceal their illegal actions. Maybe they need medical help and don’t have insurance, but you do.

There’s even a problem with child identity theft in the U.S.

Seriously, people? Even our kids?

If you’re getting phone calls or bills in the mail about debts you know nothing about, don’t simply dismiss them. These are big ol’ red flags. Look into the charges and see if someone is using your information.

What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen

The steps to prevent and repair identity theft are largely the same as those for credit card fraud, but there are a few added measures.

  • Start out by heading to the Federal Trade Commission’s webpage for an identity theft recovery plan.
  • Contact the company where the fraud occurred. Was your bank card used? Did someone take out a credit card in your name at a department store? Wherever it was, contact them right away and let them know about the fraudulent activity. Ask to have those accounts frozen until you can get the situation figured out.
  • Call one of the three major credit bureaus and place a fraud alert. If you call one of the credit bureaus, that bureau should contact the others for you to place an alert. (Verify this before you hang up!)

TransUnion: 800-680-7289

Experian: 888-397-3742

Equifax: 800-525-6285

  • You may want to file a police report. It’s up to you, but it may be a step you don’t really need.
  • If you think your Social Security number was compromised, report it to the Social Security Administration.
  • The next step is to report your case to the Federal Trade Commission, which will show you how to report identity theft. Head to IdentityTheft.gov, or call 877-438-4338. Have as many details as possible ready when you make your report.
  • If your driver’s license was stolen or compromised, report that to your nearest Department of Motor Vehicles. You may need to get a new one.
  • Suddenly have a police record for no reason? You may have to clear your name of wrongdoing. It won’t be fun or easy, but you cannot ignore it. Call your local law enforcement agency to start the process. You may want to seek counsel from a lawyer first.
  • Keep a close eye on your mail for any other solicitations for payment. School loan notices, medical bills, even letters from the IRS could be signs that you have more issues to address.
  • Sign up for a credit monitoring service such as Credit Sesame, which helps you avoid identity theft by keeping a watchful eye on your finances. Credit Sesame’s free identity theft protection will alert you to important changes in your credit report (like someone trying to apply for credit in your name), and it offers $50,000 in identity theft insurance.

How to Prevent Identity Theft and Protect Your Credit Score

It’s a scary time for these kinds of crimes. We’ve become an increasingly digital society, and our information is out there for the taking. I mean, when one of the three major credit bureaus leaks your information, you know things are bad.

Wondering how to prevent identity theft altogether? Your best bet is to simply keep close tabs on your accounts and passwords. Change those passwords frequently, and do not use the same one for everything. When you shop online, be smart about it: Don’t save your payment information on websites, navigate directly to the site you want instead of trusting links, and never shop using unsecured public Wi-Fi.

It’s your identity. You want to protect is as much as you can and take the steps needed to fix it when necessary.

Tyler Omoth is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder who loves soaking up the sun and finding creative ways to help others. Catch him on Twitter at @Tyomoth.

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