Identity theft: two words that every person fears. No one hopes for it, but everyone should be prepared just in case. According to a recent study, identity theft increased by more than 17% in 2021, and it continues to rise every year.
When someone steals your identity, they can abuse your information in a variety of ways. Everything from opening bank accounts and racking up debt to selling illegal goods under your name. Anything a thief can do with your personal information is potentially harmful. Understanding how to protect yourself and minimize fraud is essential when you are trying to recover from identity theft.
It may surprise you that very little information is necessary to steal someone’s identity. However, each piece of information is typically considered very personal. This information includes your full name, Social Security number, birthdate, address, and sometimes your mother’s maiden name.
Just five pieces of information is all it takes for someone to steal your identity. Because of this, it is essential that you protect this information, especially your Social Security number, to ensure that you are not making it easy for your identity to be used by thieves.
Thieves steal the identities of others in order to gain financial advantages that they cannot achieve under their own name, or because they do not want to harm their own credit. Identity thieves can use your information for a variety of things, such as:
If you find that your personal information has been used in any of these ways, it is important to act quickly. Follow the five steps below to help minimize fraud, protect your identity, and recover from identity theft.
Contact your bank, credit card company, and any other creditors affected by the theft. Once you inform the bank that you suspect identity theft, they will recommend what to do for your situation. Each bank is different, but be sure to ask about how to best secure the affected accounts, and what types of security they can place on your account. The faster you protect your finances, the faster you will be able to recover from identity theft.
When talking to your bank, this is also a good time to ask about new accounts that may have been opened under your name. If the bank finds new accounts, you should close these immediately to cut off a thief’s access to your money.
Whatever you discuss with your bank or creditor, follow up your initial contact in writing. Send a letter through certified mail to confirm what was discussed and what actions were to be taken. Keep a copy of this letter, and request that your bank or creditor send a confirmation letter.
Next, contact the three major credit reporting agencies (CRAs), Experian, Equifax, or Transunion. When you contact them, you can do the following:
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has created a tool in which you can safely and easily report identity theft. By going to identitytheft.gov you can file an Identity Theft Report. Once you file this report, the FTC will create a plan best suited to help you recover from identity theft, provide necessary forms for you, and help you along the recovery process.
Next, contact your local police department to file a police report for identity theft. When you contact the police, be sure to provide all the details you know regarding your situation, such as the name of the person who stole your identity, and specific dates or locations that accounts may have been used, created, or abused. Each detail that you can provide for a stolen identity can help the police.
Once you file a report, ask the police for a copy of the report. This report will be helpful in providing evidence of the crime for creditors and banks. The police may also ask you to complete additional forms that will allow them to run checks to see if fraudulent accounts have recently been opened under your name, or if there are recent arrest warrants issued in your name.
Your state may have additional programs for victims of identity theft. Although not every state has them, you should utilize these programs if you have the opportunity. For example, California advises that residents experiencing identity theft register in the California Identity Theft Registry.
If you are experiencing identity theft and don’t know where to turn, it may be time to call a lawyer. An ID theft lawyer can offer guidance and advice about what to do if you are experiencing identity theft. There are many situations that an ID theft attorney could be helpful:
If you are the victim of identity theft and the courts, banks, or creditors are not following federal regulations, call the Financial Justice Initiative for help. FJI was formed by two consumer protection law firms with a passion for protecting consumers and holding banks, credit bureaus, and creditors accountable. If you need help fighting to regain your finances, credit, or good name after identity theft, call (855) 929-1051 or complete our online inquiry form.