I had my identity stolen in 2015. And it was one of the biggest PITA of my life. Five years later, in 2020, it feels as if identity theft is a thing of the past. Businesses are more aware of it now, and there are so many measures in place to secure information. It feels safer out there, right?
Actually, no. Here is data from the Insurance Information Institute:
- Of the 3 million identity theft and fraud reports received in 2018, 1.4 million were fraud-related
- 25 percent of those cases reported money was lost
- In 2018, consumers reported losing about $1.48 billion related to fraud complaints, an increase of $406 million from 2017.
These stats led me to investigate what to do about identity theft. Data sharing and putting in sensitive financial information feels like the “cost of doing business” in the age of apps and online shopping but the scaring part (to me) is losing my hard-earned money because of some assh*le thief. Right?
So, below is what to do to protect your finances in the event of identity theft.
Identity Theft: What to Do to Protect Your Finances
Cancel all of your cards
All of your credit cards may be affected so it’s better to be safe than sorry. Contact all your creditors as soon as possible. Even Though that particular card may not have been affected, letting the company know your information has been compromised is important and will help with the investigation.
I will say in 2020, credit card companies are a lot savvier at spotting and prevent fraud than five years ago when I had my identity stolen. Typically, the card company will issue a fraud alert on your account and start an investigation on any transactions during and around the time your report had been made. Normally, you won’t be held responsible for any fraudulent charges.
And if you haven't already, while you're on the phone with the credit card companies, set up two-step verification, that way in case anyone dials in attempting to be you, they'll have to give a password in order to access your account.
Change all the passwords to your online accounts
If you don’t already have one, use a password manager like LastPass. These apps allow you to create long, structured passwords that can be different for each account.
And don’t forget to activate two-factor authentication for any online accounts that offer them.
It’s also a good idea to change your passwords on a rotating schedule (usually once a month for bank and credit card passwords, and every other month for other personal account passwords like email and health accounts).
This is super annoying, but it can end up saving you money and hassle in the long term.
Place an alert on your credit report immediately.
It is now free and super easy to place a credit freeze and fraud alert on your credit report and social security number. You can do so with each credit reporting agency through each of the 3 credit agencies (Equifax, Experian, Transunion).
You will need to contact each bureau separately to freeze your report with each.
Check Your Credit Report Too
After an alert your identity has been compromised, go ahead and either order a copy of your credit report (you get one for free, from all three bureaus, once each year.)
- You can order a hard copy, or download online and print, although you won't be able to access it again for free until the next year.
- Check for any odd or suspicious activity, and check ALL OF THEM. Sometimes things show up on one report and may not on another (which happened in my case back in 2015)
- You can also easily access your credit report for free online through Credit Sesame. You can also download an app like Credit Karma so you can keep track of your credit report. They’ll send you an alert if any new accounts are opened in your name.
Write a letter (ASAP) to get fraudulent activity off your report
If you (unfortunately) find an account open in your name that you did not authorize, you'll have to write to each credit bureau separately since each one reports differently/different activity.
You'll need to mail a letter stating the charge is fraudulent, and mail them a copy of your ID and a utility bill or bank/insurance statement.
Hopefully, this will do the trick, but it could take a few weeks.
Consider Investing in Credit Monitoring
I invested in credit monitoring for the entire year after my identity was stolen. It was very low cost, and it provided an incredible peace of mind in those early months after it happened. ( I used Lifelock, but thankfully never had a problem after I froze my credit.)
Otherwise, you'll have to be hyper-vigilant in the months following identity theft. I'm normally pretty good about keeping a check on my score every month. It's not fool-proof, but in case someone does get an account/card open in your name, you'll be able to spot it.
And with a wide variety of companies now offering total protection and monitoring for dollars a year, why wouldn't you?
Identity Theft: More Ways to Keep Your Identity Secure
- If you are going to join a public Wi-Fi network, Don’t EVER do conduct financial business on a public Wi-Fi network. For example, don’t do banking or check emails on a public Wi-Fi, wait until you’re at home on your own private network.
- Not only change your passwords but set strong passwords for all accounts even when you're opening new ones, like downloading an app or signing up for a digital service. Most online accounts now require a strong password, but just in case. (I know it’s annoying, but it’s effective.)
- Consider using credit cards as those typically have more fraud protections in place than debit cards.
The Final TL:DR
Waiting to sign up for identity protection services after your data has been compromised is a lot like waiting until after you’ve been burgled to install a security system. A security system is nice to have, but it doesn’t really fix the fact that you’ve been robbed of your stuff and now feel unsafe.
Prevention (and having the right tools in place) is always the best course of action.