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What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen

Millions of people become victims of identity theft every year. This is not the result of ambivalence or ineptitude when it comes to safeguarding personal identifying information (PII). This is the result of identity thieves being very good at what they do and constantly developing new and numerous methods to obtain their victims’ PII. Those methods include sending phishing emails to get people to voluntarily surrender their PII, skimming devices at ATM machines or gas pumps to get card data, cyber breaches at stores and online retailers, or the old-fashioned methods of stealing wallets and snatching purses.

While there are many ways for people to be vigilant in thwarting identity thieves, those thieves are incentivized to pursue PII because identity theft is very lucrative. They can access your bank accounts, open new credit cards and lines of credit, take out loans in your name, and impersonate you in any number of ways.

If you ever find yourself victimized by identity thieves – or become aware of your PII being compromised or lost or stolen – there are ways to mitigate the devastating consequences of that theft or loss. Those consequences include substantial financial damage, may even face financial ruin, see long-standing damage to their credit score and reputation, emotional turmoil, stress, anxiety, and may even face criminal charges for crimes they did not commit.

Because every situation is unique, obtaining tailored advice from attorneys for identity theft is the best thing you can do. They will identify potential vulnerabilities and provide solutions for your unique predicament.

There are also things you should do.

What to Do Immediately

Identity theft occurs when someone steals and illegally uses your PII. This can include your SSN, your driver’s license number, your credit card information, your bank account information, or any other confidential information.

If you experience identity theft, it is important to take quick and decisive action to mitigate the damage and protect yourself and your finances. This includes:

  • Stay calm. Realizing that you may be the victim of identity theft can be a panic inducing experience. Take a few deep breaths. Remember these things that you can do right away. Maintaining a level head will foster sound decision-making moving forward.
  • Contact the police department in your area to file a report. This is an important step when it comes to seeking recovery from identity theft – or for any legal issues that arise as a result of the theft – as it provides proof that you were indeed the victim of a crime.
  • Contact the credit bureaus. There are three of them: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion (together “the Bureaus”). Explain what happened and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This will help prevent any further attempts at fraudulent activity and alert all involved parties that someone may have stolen your information.
  • Contact all financial institutions that may be impacted by the stolen information. This means banks, credit card companies, investment accounts. Explain your situation to them and ask them to also place a fraud alert on your accounts.
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC) and submit a complaint. They track patterns of identity theft and offer advice on how best to guard yourself against this crime in the future.
  • Keep a record of everyone you contact and when.
  • Get support. There are resources for victims of identity theft. The FTC has a variety of programs designed specifically for identity theft victims. If you are feeling emotionally upset, contact someone who can offer support. Depending on the circumstances, it might also be time to contact an attorney.
  • Assess the damage. Review your accounts to identify any unauthorized transactions or fraudulent activity.

What to Do Long Term

The effects of identity theft do not end the day, the week, or the month that it happens. Dealing with and recovering from the theft will be a challenging and lengthy process and it’s essential to remain dedicated to resolving the issue. Through the process, stay aware that you are not alone and asking for help from authorities, financial institutions, and legal experts is often necessary for rebuilding your life and recovering what you have lost.

  • Monitor your credit reports. You are entitled to one free credit report every week from the Bureaus. You must request these. Review and monitor these credit reports regularly for any suspicious activity or errors. This can include unauthorized accounts opened or unauthorized transactions.
  • Secure your identity. Change your passwords for all your financial accounts, email accounts, social media accounts, and anything else you deem pertinent. Make them strong by adding numbers, special characters, and upper-case letters. Do not reuse passwords or use the same password or variations thereof across multiple accounts. Change PIN numbers and verification questions.
  • Adopt new security practices. Consider upgrading WiFi. Stay current when it comes to knowing the continuously evolving methods that identity thieves and cyber criminals are using to steal PII. Because it is so lucrative, thieves will always be developing new email scams and new methods to try to get your PII. Consider setting up a P.O. Box for sensitive mail or using a mailbox with a lock. Consider a paper shredder to dispose of sensitive or potentially damaging documents.
  • Stay informed about your case. Follow up with local law enforcement. If the identity theft resulted from a compromised retailer website or cyber hack of an institution which held your PII, then stay abreast of the investigation into that and what the company or companies are doing to resolve the situation.
  • Stay informed about your rights. You will have questions about how to recover financial losses and if appropriate, seek recovery from other actors or third parties. Seeking legal advice from Consumer Attorneys can help you navigate complex legal situations that may arise.

You will have much to do and much to consider after having your identity stolen. Throughout the ordeal, you must remember that you are not alone, and there are crucial and concrete steps you can take to minimize the damage and regain control of your life. By promptly reporting the theft to multiple authorities, alerting financial institutions, and closely monitoring your accounts, you can mitigate the damage. By augmenting security of your PII, staying informed, and seeking legal advice you can ultimately reclaim what is rightfully yours and protect yourself from future threats.