How would you feel if you found out your identity had been stolen? Each year, millions of Americans fall victim to identity theft, and that number has grown steadily over the past 11 years. The impact on victims range anywhere from a slight annoyance to replacing Jason Bateman as Sandy Patterson in the movie, Identity Thief. Now chances are you will not be chasing down some off the wall woman across the country to clear your name of criminal charges, though many of us have fallen somewhere in between. So, how do you protect yourself from identity theft online and take steps to prevent it from happening?
What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen
The truth is, there is nothing funny or entertaining about having your identity stolen. It’s a serious crime that leaves its victims feeling violated, frustrated, and many times helpless. Online hackers can be quite clever in obtaining information from you. Sometimes they will use tactics over a period of time to gain more information about you. This way, it’s not as noticeable to you. It may start with a friend request on Facebook from a familiar name or a phone call from your cable company. Little do you know the friend request was from a false account or the phone call was a hacker looking to gather personal information. This is called Social Engineering, a tactic used to trick people into revealing personal information so that it can be used against you.
Luckily, there are steps we can follow to take our identities back and protect ourselves from falling victim to identity theft in the future. Once you assess your situation, you can take action to minimize the damage. Finally, you can follow some simple guidelines to prevent this from happening again.
Assess the severity of the situation. Is it an isolated event? Which accounts have been compromised? You may not know the answer to these questions, though this is the time to start making a list of accounts you know were affected and who you need to contact. As you start the process, you will gain more knowledge on exactly what you need to do.
After assessing the situation, it’s time to take action. The most important thing you can do after you find out your identity has been stolen is contact anyone who can help to minimize the damage. Time is of the essence when it comes to identity theft.
- Call your bank to file a fraud claim, and put a hold on your accounts.
- Close credit card and debit card accounts.
- Change passwords on email, social media, and all your devices.
- Check your social media accounts for fake followers or friends.
- If you find accounts that were open in your name under false pretense, report the account from which it was opened.
- If your social security number has been compromised, you will want to report this to the IRS.
- File a police report, especially if you find a large purchase that was fraudulently made in your name.
Another great resource for reporting identity theft is the Federal Trade Commission. Their website identitytheft.gov will walk you through specific questions regarding your situation. You will then get a printable, step-by-step plan to help you report the incident to the proper authorities.
A strong offense is a defense. Think before setting up new accounts and accepting friend requests and followers on social media. There are precautions you can take to minimize your identity from being stolen again.
- Use strong passwords on all your accounts.
- Regularly monitor accounts in your name for suspicious activity and report it immediately.
- Install an antimalware program like AVG or Webroot on all your devices.
- Never use public Wi-Fi to transmit personal information over the internet.
- Before accepting friend requests or followers on social media, check to make sure it is who they are claiming to be.
- Do not give anyone your personal information without being 100% sure the company you are dealing with is authentic.
- Invest in identity theft protection services such as Life Lock, Identity Force, or Equifax ID Patrol.