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Combatting Identity Theft
There are thousands of articles that offer tips on how to avoid having your financial information or identity stolen. Some of this is common sense, such as shielding the keyboard when entering sensitive data on a payphone or ATM. Others require some technical savvy, such as making sure your online purchases are secure, never allowing merchants to store your credit card information online, and never using online passwords that are easy to guess or repurpose. This is all great advice. But how do you know he was a victim? And once you’ve determined it was, what steps should you take to protect your property and stop the theft?
How do I know I’m a victim?
Identity theft is used to cover a wide range of crimes, from the common theft of credit card numbers to thieves starting a fake financial life using your personal information. This type of theft is more complicated to identify, but can be financially devastating.
To determine if your card number has been stolen, check your credit card and bank statements for accuracy. Keeping a detailed record of the transactions you and your family make is the key to knowing what might be fraud. If you’re seeing charges that you didn’t pay, your card information may have been stolen. Don’t make the mistake of thinking that the only way to steal a credit or debit card is to physically take it. The recent breach at Target Stores where over 40 million credit card numbers, including expiration dates, names and CCV codes, were stolen just by using them at the register at a Target store. Unfortunately, this is an increasingly common way to steal credit card information.
Total identity theft is more than just stealing a credit card number. Identity thieves find personal information about you, such as your social security number and date of birth. They can use this information to open new accounts (which are approved based on your good credit history).
Determining whether someone is using your personal information to create fraudulent credit accounts, loans, or other accounts opened in your name is a bit more complicated. These criminals often open a line of credit using your personal information but a different address, so you don’t know anything is wrong until the thieves pay off the loan or pay the bill. In this case, the lender will contact you and find your real address based on your credit report. If you receive a notice that you owe money to a creditor with no account, don’t ignore it. This may indicate that you have been a victim of identity theft. Likewise, if you start getting credit card statements from cards you don’t own, the same could be true.
By the time you start receiving statements, you’ve often been a victim for quite some time. The best way to be immediately alerted to potentially fraudulent information is to monitor your credit with one of the many online services available for this purpose. These services notify you by email when something new appears in your credit history, including new addresses, new loans, and new credit accounts. They also alert you when the value of an created account changes dramatically; for example, if your credit card balance suddenly drops from $300 to $5,000.
What should I do first?
If you see transactions on your debit or credit card that you did not make, the first thing you should do is contact your bank or financial institution immediately to let them know if you see any fraudulent charges/charges. You should then close the stolen card or hacked account immediately. Open a new account and accept new debit/credit cards. Most financial institutions provide detailed instructions for customers with stolen credit or debit cards. Follow their advice.
Identity theft requires additional steps, both to protect against liability and to stop the criminal. Here are some suggested steps:
- A fraud report should be added to your credit history immediately. Contact any credit reporting agency and get the report. It is shared with other agencies.
- The Federal Trade Commission provides affidavits that can be downloaded and filled out in case of identity theft; Credit card companies often ask for this information. Complete one and keep copies to send to any lender involved.
- Contact law enforcement and report that your identity has been stolen. Enter any fraudulent addresses that identity thieves have attached to your credit history.
- Contact the US Post Office and report the fraudulent address.
- Continue to monitor your credit reports and follow up to ensure fraudulent addresses in your name are removed from your credit history; otherwise, the thief could still open new accounts.
- Keep all correspondence related to the theft.
Unfortunately, hackers and identity thieves are developing increasingly sophisticated ways to steal your information. No matter what precautions you take, there is no surefire way to avoid becoming a victim. Follow these personal information security tips, but don’t expect 100% success. Be vigilant and monitor your financial statements and credit history for unusual activity. And be aware of what to do if you become a victim.
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