Identity theft statistics are astounding. The damages that this type of theft might cause are even more astounding. So if your personal information is lost or stolen, it can be a very scary experience.
There are many ways your personal information could be stolen. You could lose your purse or wallet. You might accidentally respond to a phishing email or phone call. Or your personal data may have been lost during a breach with a company that you hold an account with. If you become aware of the possibility that your personal data might have been stolen, there are several important steps to take to detect and prevent any misuse.
If credit cards or credit card information is lost or stolen, contact your credit card companies and let them know. Close those accounts immediately.
Contact your bank immediately and let them know as well. Discuss whether or not any banking accounts should be closed or monitored.
If your Social Security Number might have been stolen, call the three major credit bureaus (Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; Experian: 1-888-397-3742; TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289) and place a fraud alert under your number. This will prevent new accounts from being opened under your identity. The fraud alert stays on your credit report for 90 days. It is recommended that you wait one month before ordering your credit report to check for fraud, as some suspicious activity may not show up any sooner than that. When you do get your reports, review them for inquiries from companies you haven’t dealt with, accounts you never opened, and debts that you can't explain. Also check to be sure that all of your personal information (name, address, etc.) is correct.
If your personal information was lost during a company data breach, often times the company will offer a credit monitoring service for free. If this type of service is offered, accept it, as it can help quickly detect any misuse and offer identity theft protection information.
If your driver's license or other government identification is stolen, contact the government agency that issued the identification to cancel the old identification and replace it with a new one. Be sure to ask the agency to keep an alert in your file preventing another license or identification card being issued in your name.
If you do open new credit or bank accounts, give them complicated passwords and PINs. Do not use your birthdate, social security number, maiden name or any other password that someone who has stolen your identity could figure out.
If you know that your information has been misused, promptly file a report with the police, and file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft.
Once you’ve taken these steps, continue to watch for signs that your information is being used. An identity theft fact that many people don’t know is that some thieves take their time using your information, so you may not see any signs of activity for a year or longer. Make sure that your bills arrive on time; a missing bill could mean that a thief has taken over your account and changed the address. Monitor your bank and credit account closely each month and be vigilant in checking your credit reports often and thoroughly. If you receive a credit card you didn’t apply for, if you are denied credit or get bills or calls from debt collectors on accounts you never opened, you have fallen victim to identity theft.