Identity Theft and Recovery
Identity theft occurs when an assailant impersonates you for their own gain using stolen information that is often used to identify you (i.e. your Social Security Number, address, etc.). Examples of some of the nefarious actions that may be carried by a criminal using your identity include:
- Opening bank or credit accounts tied to you
- Filing a bogus tax return and collecting your refund
- Making online purchases, sometimes with the intention of selling those goods on the black market
- Claiming your identity to shift medical expense liability
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the following are common methods used by identity thieves:
- Stealing: Wallets and purses; mail, such as credit card and bank statements; pre-approved credit offers; new checks; personnel records; passport or license; or tax information.
- Phishing: Fake email, spam, or pop-up messages look as if they are from actual financial institutions or businesses. You are requested to reveal your personal information in order to renew an account, receive the prize, etc.
- Dumpster Diving: Bills or other paper with personal information is taken from your trash.
- Changing Your Address: Billing statements in your name are diverted to another location by completing a "change of address" form.
- Skimming: Credit or debit card numbers are stolen by using a special storage device when processing your card.
Recognizing common indicators that your identity has been stolen
Things to watch for:
- late or missing bills
- receiving credit cards you did not apply for
- calls or letters about purchases you did not make
- suspicious purchases or withdrawals on your credit or bank statements
- denials of credit or being offered less favorable terms for no apparent reason
- a letter from the IRS indicating more than one tax return was filed with your SSN
- your credit report, which includes the accounts you have and your bill paying history
- your bank statements, which you should check for any withdrawals or account activity you did not approve
- your credit statements, which you may choose to receive online or place security alerts on in order to detect fraud
- other financial statements
Protecting your identity
- If you notice fraudulent charges on an account, call that institution and, if they haven’t already done so for you, cancel the account immediately
- Report a lost or stolen driver’s or state identification card immediately through your state’s card issuer
- If a credit card company, or any company that has your data and was previously breached, offers free credit monitoring, take advantage of it.
- Review your credit report at least annually. You can do so FREE.
- File your taxes early, before a scammer can. Respond right away to letters from the IRS.
- Monitor medical records thoroughly for charges you didn’t incur or services and procedures you didn’t have performed.
- If you stop receiving medical bills, call your insurer or health provider; one steps an identity thief will take is changing the address of your bills to cover their tracks.
- If you believe one or more of your accounts have been compromised, like banking or credit accounts, log into the accounts (if you can) and change your password. If you cannot log in, call the customer service line of the applicable institution and speak with a representative as soon as you can.