We spend years of our adult lives building, keeping, and maintaining our identity. It includes everything from our financial accounts, health insurance, credit score, and employment history.
We try to keep everything safe and secure online, but unfortunately, thieves are opportunistic.
They take what is ours, and suddenly, everything we’ve worked so hard to build is gone.
If you’ve ever found yourself to be a victim of identity theft, the anger and frustration over the discovery are indescribable. Once the information is compromised, working on minimalizing the damage and reclaiming what has been taken can be overwhelming.
To help you reclaim your identity, we’ve compiled a list of 9 steps you can take if you’re a victim of identity theft:
- Run a background check on yourself
One of the easiest ways to know the extent of the damage is to run a background checkusing a site like checkpeople.com. These websites will show you all financial accounts, any new addresses, current social media profiles, and more. Once you have a better understanding of the damage, you’ll be more prepared to handle the aftermath.
- Assess the damage
There are different types of identity theft, and each one poses its unique difficulty in resolving. Determine which areas have been impacted by the breach, whether it’s on social media, financially, medical, criminal, or banking fraud.
- Close or Freeze Compromised Financial Accounts
Any accounts that have been used in an unauthorized way should be closed immediately to prevent future use. If any accounts have been opened without your consent, contact those companies immediately to close them. Some financial institutions can reverse unauthorized charges or activities, which can help lower the financial impact of identity theft.
- Report the Fraudulent Activity to the CRA (National Credit Reporting Agencies)
There are currently three credit bureaus within the CRA. These include TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. By contacting one of the agencies and reporting the fraud, a note will be added to your file.
This note will make opening or activating new accounts more difficult for thieves, especially if it’s reported before new (fraudulent) accounts are established. Filing a report with one agency notifies the other two agencies, so you’ll be covered moving forward.
- File the Police and FTC Report
The Federal Trade Commission will take all reports of identity theft for possible action throughout the country. Completing this report before going to the police department helps collect all relevant details. Additionally, the completed FTC report can be submitted with the police report. Although many police departments will only take the report as a courtesy (especially if the thief resides in another state or country), having a paper trail is important. Many financial institutions and insurance companies require a police report to open an investigation.
- Check Your Computer for Malware or Viruses
Malware and viruses allow hackers to receive private or sensitive information about you, without you knowing they’ve done it. These can include usernames, passwords, credit card information, or personal information.
Make sure you run a trusted anti-virus program on the computer, using the most comprehensive scan possible. Check that your software offers protection against malware as well as viruses.
- Change All Account Passwords
To limit the potential for accessing further accounts, ensure that all online passwords have been changed and updated. This includes passwords for your phone and computer too. Don’t forget to include any online financial accounts (like credit cards, bank accounts, or loan accounts) in the process. Social media passwords should be changed to a unique and difficult pattern. For added security, enable two-step authentication on all online accounts whenever possible.
- Keep Accurate Records of All Activity
Sometimes the only way to stay on top of identity theft is through complete and detailed notes. Make sure you record the dates and times you spoke to someone at a company, including their name, employee number, and callback number.
Also, record the dates and times you closed any erroneous financial accounts too, and follow up if they still reflect on your report. By documenting everything, you’ll have detailed records in case further problems should arise.
- Try to Prevent a Reoccurrence
Try to eliminate potential risks in the future, especially if you use shared computers or open access internet. Only visit personal or sensitive websites on secure, personal computers. Make sure to only open email attachments you are expecting and only if you have a virus scan program.
Finally, never click through company emails, even if you believe them to be authentic. Phishing is a common source of identity theft. If you’re concerned, exit out of the email program and open the company website on an internet browser.
Although no one wants to deal with identity theft, getting through it without long-term damage is possible. By making sure you closely monitoring your accounts, you’ll work to safeguard your devices and improve online security. With time and patience, you’ll be able to get back on track quickly.