What if one day you get a call from IRS saying that you have earned an income but you do not ever recognize nor remember working for that employer?
What if one day you found out that you are not receiving any mails anymore and found out later they are being sent to a different address?
Looks like scenes that can happen only in a suspense Hollywood movie but these things have actually happened to real people when bad guys stole their identity for their own advantage. Identity theft may not sound like a fatal crime but its effects to individuals are so serious they create trauma and paranoia. Identity is a crime that can wreck lives, even the quiet lives of ordinary people.
How do you know that you are victim of identity theft?
What’s frustrating about identity theft is that you will never really realize it until the damage has already been done. Sometimes, it’s a one-time collateral damage; other times, it is a slow but repeated breach. Other examples of scenarios when people realize their identity has been stolen are the following.
-bank withdrawals and credit report accounts they did not initiate and cannot explain
-bills or mails that don’t arrive at their address
-getting bills for medical services which they did not avail
-getting calls from debt collectors about debts that are not theirs
Identity theft’s end goal is not to steal your identity per se, but to steal something from you, most especially money. When a thief now owns your identity, he has your neck around his fingers. He has the potential to access everything you own.
If you have been victim of identity theft (we hope you are not!), the one thing you should not do is to cower. Don’t panic, either because it might just cause you to do things that won’t help your situation. What you should do instead is to fight back and do everything you can, as fast as you can, to prevent any more damage.
Here are some of the things that you can do.
Put a fraud alert on the credit bureaus
A fraud alert notifies your lenders to be extra careful when extending credit to your account which you believed has been compromised. Fraud alert lasts 90 days but once it expires, you can actually call the credit bureau and have it extended, especially when you already know that your identity was indeed stolen. Extended fraud alert lasts up to 7 years.
To put a fraud alert, simply call any of the credit bureaus such as Experian, Equifax or TransUnion. When you call one them, they will automatically notify the other two of the fraud alert. Putting a fraud alert entitles you to a free copy of your credit report from each agencies. Carefully review your reports and look for suspicious items which you did not transact. Dispute these items into writing and keep a record of the disputation process.
Put a security freeze on your credit reports
Even more effective than a fraud alert is a security freeze, which prevents access from creditors and therefore prevent the opening of new accounts…even though it’s actually you who are trying to open a new account. To put a security freeze, you need to call each of the credit bureaus.
Do act fast because you will never really know when the next wave of attack happens and which it will target.
Call your creditors and freeze or close your accounts
If you believe your credit card account was compromised, call your credit card issuer – and we can’t stress this enough — call their fraud or security department right away. Getting ahead of the identity thief is better than fixing the damage that he or she can potentially cause.
Likewise, make a stop payment on checks if they were stolen, too. If you are opening a new account with them, make sure that you are using a different PIN than the one that was breached.
If, however, transactions were already made to your account, you will have to ask for dispute forms and explain your case in writing, with all the supporting documents that you have. When doing so, make sure to keep a copy of all your records and mail exchanges.
Protect your social security benefits
If you think your social security number has been compromised, contact the Social Security Agency (SSA) right away. You wouldn’t want the identity thief fraudulently taking social security benefits or obtaining employment in your name.
File an Identity Theft Report and police report
You can create an Identity Theft Report on the Federal Trade Commission’s website, www.ftc.gov, or by calling them at their toll-free number 1-877-ID-THEFT. After filing a report to the FTC, you will need to file a police report as well. Get a copy of the police report and the FTC report because you will need them in disputing your records with your creditors and the credit bureaus.
Your Identity Theft report can help avoid fraudulent information or debts from appearing on your credit report. Likewise, it can help prevent companies from attempting to collect debts resulting from identity theft.
Be alert always
Be on the lookout for charges made to your account. Keep a close eye on the details and changes on your credit report. The ugly thing about identity theft is that you will never truly know the extent of their intention to steal. You can’t tell when they are going to stop. For example, a woman in Texas had her identity stolen repeatedly for 10 years. Imagine the frustration of someone trying to fix her life only to go back to square one after all the hard work.
Of course, an ounce of prevention is still better than a pound of cure. The best way to protect yourself and your family from identity theft is to practice security all the time when it comes to handling your most personal and confidential information.
For instance, at Finance Rescue, we treat everything you reveal to us verbally or in writing with utmost confidentiality. Our clients’ data are kept in secure third party servers and our certified debt consultants never ask information that should be yours alone to know.
Make “security first” your motto when it comes to your confidential information. We don’t want your identity stolen. We don’t want you to be paying for debts that were not of your own doing.