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.
What is a data breach?
A data breach occurs when personal information has been used or viewed by a person without appropriate authorization. Breaches can create serious personal and financial risk for consumers and business, and therefore it’s important to understand how to protect yourself. Data breaches can occur for a number of reasons, including criminal activity, accidents and computer failures.
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. You can contact TransUnion and the other reporting companies to take protective measures, such as placing a fraud alert message or credit freeze on your file. You should also consider contacting your financial institutions or other account holders to ensure your information is secure.
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 or personal items such as credit or debit cards, passports, driver’s licenses, checks and/or Social Security cards, in which case you should file a report with the local police, as well as your bank and credit card companies. Other ways information can be stolen include using malware or spyware to steal information from personal computers, hacking into computer networks or databases, or acting as a trusted organization in order to obtain personal information.
Additional ways to protect yourself from identity theft include password-protecting your devices and using anti-virus software, using caution when sharing personal information or account numbers online or over the phone and by clearing all personal information off of technology devices before donating or selling them.
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. You can also monitor your phone calls and mail for credit card or account statements that you did not open, denials of credit you did not apply for or information on purchases you did not make.
It’s 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 theft
Report 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.