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Update 7/12/17: A lot has changed since 2014, and while my the above tips are still relevant, I’d like to include a handful of newer tips for preventing theft of your financial info in today’s increasingly digital world.
I got a call from Wells Fargo last Wednesday notifying me that someone had stolen my SSN, also knew my address and was attempting to take out a credit card/loan. Awesome. This led me to investigate what any consumer should do in the event of identity theft. So, here are the 7 most important things to do when someone steals your identity.
The 7 Most Important Things to Do When Someone Steals Your Identity
1.) Cancel all of your cards
All of the credit cards may be affected, better safe than sorry. While you're on the phone with the credit card companies, set up a 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.
2.) Change all the passwords to your online accounts
This should be a no-brainer. In the digital age, it's increasingly likely that your information was accessed through one of your online accounts. I list Last Pass for this as it makes it really easy to track and change passwords.
3.) Place an alert on your credit report immediately.
You can report it to Experian via this link and they will also notify Transunion and Equifax. You'll place an alert and leave your phone number so anytime someone tries to take out a loan or do something requiring a credit check, you'll get a phone call.
If you do it yourself, they expire in 90 days, so make a calendar reminder in 90 days time to go back and set the fraud alert again.
4.) Check Your Credit Report Too
While you're there, go ahead and either order a copy of your credit report (you get one for free, from all three bureaus, once each year.) Or you can download online and print, although you won't be able to access 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 that do not on another (which happened in my case.) Once/if you find something move to number 5.
You can also easily access your credit report for free online through Credit Sesame.
5.) Write a letter (ASAP) to get fraudulent activity off your report
For this one, 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.
6.) Put yourself on the opt-out list
It is happening less and less, but people do still receive pre-approved credit offers in the mail. Put yourself on the opt-out list by going here, filling out the form and then mailing it. I suspect my identity may have been stolen because someone has been tampering with my mail.
7.) Get a shredder
In case you keep getting these offers, shred em, and shred any old documents with your social. Identity theft is a largely digital crime, but you NEVER know. It could literally happen anywhere.
5 (More) Ways to Keep Your Identity Secure when Someone Steals Your Identity
- Don’t join sketchy Wi-Fi networks. Ever.
- Don’t do ANY financial business on a public Wi-Fi network, for example, if you’re at Starbucks. Wait until you’re at home on your own network for these types of transactions.
- Not only change your passwords, but set strong passwords moving forward. Most online accounts now require this, 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.
- Keep a hard copy record of all credit card numbers.
- Invest in on-going credit monitoring. 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. You can also pay per month for Transunion or some other company to track your credit for you.
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. It's always best to ensure a) your credentials aren't stolen again and b) that the original perp isn't letting some time pass before trying to use your information again.
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.
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