Identity theft remains one of the most pervasive crimes in the United States. As technology gets smarter, so do the scammers. Here are the most common warning signs that your personal/confidential information may have been stolen.
- You see charges you don’t recognize (or companies you don’t know) on your credit card bill
- Withdrawals you haven’t authorized are on your bank statements
- The Internal Revenue Service advises you that more than one tax return was filed in your name. (Note: The IRS never makes phone calls requesting information —but scammers do. Don’t give personal information to anyone you don’t know over the phone.)
- You receive bills from doctors or hospitals for services you didn’t receive
- Your health insurance denies you coverage based on records that don’t reflect your health issues
- Your IP address is hijacked by online crooks for criminal activities
You might get notifications from companies warning that their systems (and hence your data) have been comprised by cyber crooks. This is not a clear-cut sign that your data has been stolen, but it should encourage you to check your bank accounts and credit reports immediately.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, here’s what to do:
- Contact any one of the three credit reporting agencies Experian (www.experian.com), Equifax (www.equifax.com), or TransUnion (www.transunion.com). Ask the agency to put out a 90-day fraud alert to notify lenders and creditors to take extra steps to confirm your identity before entering into any business transaction. It doesn’t matter which agency you contact – it will automatically contact the other two on your behalf. Alternatively, you may choose to contact and request that each agency (you will have to contact each of the three agencies) put a security freeze on your credit reports. This means that no new creditors may access your credit reports and that applications will be denied even if the thief has your Social Security number. In the future, you will have to contact each credit reporting agency and go through their specific procedures to “unfreeze” your credit report.
- Obtain credit reports from all the above mentioned agencies. You are entitled to a free copy from each. Review the reports promptly, flag any fraudulent items and begin the dispute process.
- Contact every organization that you believe may be affected. That means credit card companies, banks, healthcare insurance providers, Social Security Administration, etc.
- Make a report to the authorities. This requires two steps – first, contact your local law enforcement office to report the crime, and then contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to create an identity theft report. You can reach the FTC online at: www.ftc.gov/faq/consumer-protection/report-identity-theft or by phone at: 877-ID THEFT.
- Protect your Social Security number. If there is any chance it is in the wrong hands, contact the Social Security Administration and the IRS. A thief might try to steal your tax refund or seek benefits using your name.
Be proactive and don’t wait for trouble. Request the credit report you can obtain for free annually from each of the reporting agencies. Try staggering your requests so that you can review a report every fourth month.