What is Identity Theft? Identity theft is a serious crime where your personal information—anything from your name, your driver’s license, or Social Security Number—has been hijacked by an imposter who intends to commit fraud in your name. With your Social Security Number, someone can easily obtain false lines of credit and rack up significant debt in your name. With a stolen identity, someone might hide behind your name in a legal matter, leaving you with a false criminal record. Identity fraud is a major problem, and it happens more often than you might think. According to the Internal Revenue Service, 2.7 million people had their identities stolen in 2014.
How do I protect my identity when a data breach occurs?When it comes to major data breaches, one of the best identity protection habits you can have is to change your passwords on a regular basis. Make this a part of your monthly routine. Credit card information is seldom exposed in a data breach, but the same cannot be said for email addresses and passwords. Another simple step toward protection is to avoid using similar passwords, like password1 and password2. Mix it up.
How can someone steal my identity?Your mail often contains sensitive information, like your Social Security Number, and criminals can obtain it by going through your trash. It’s important to destroy documents that include personal information before putting them in the garbage. Identity theft can also occur as the result of a lost or stolen wallet, in which case you should file a report with the local police, as well as your bank and credit card companies.
How do I find out if my identity has been stolen?Getting your credit report from TransUnion is an effective way to detect identity fraud. You can review your report for signs of suspicious activity, such as accounts opened in your name that you don’t recognize, or credit checks from companies with which you’ve never done business. This could be a sign that someone is applying for credit in your name. Better to catch them early. You can’t always prevent identity theft, but you can be proactive and minimize the damage. If you don’t review your credit report on a regular basis, months might go by before you find out that someone has stolen your identity. Imagine a collection agency contacting you about purchases you didn’t make, or the police showing up at your door with an arrest warrant for fraud you didn’t commit.
What do I do if my identity has been stolen?If you suspect that someone has stolen your identity, there are several things you need to do.
Report the theftReport the identity theft to the local police, the Federal Trade Commission and your State Consumer Protection Office or Attorney General. Contact the company or financial institution where the fraud occurred. Inform them that a false account has been opened in your name. For insurance fraud, contact your insurance company, and let them know that your identity has been stolen. For tax fraud, contact the IRS.
Freeze your accounts
Contact the three credit reporting agencies—TransUnion, Experian and Equifax—and place a freeze on your accounts. The freeze will block any further credit applications made in your name.
Call the bank
Report the situation to the fraud departments of all of your financial institutions (any and all banks with which you do business or have current accounts).