Identity Theft is becoming a pervasive form of fraud. We all need to understand how it works, how to prevent it, and what to do if we are victims.
- Getting calls from collection agencies asking for repayment of debt that you can’t remember acquiring
- You find out there are credit cards in your name when you did not solicit them
- Your bills are missing, or you are getting unfamiliar bills
- You discover unauthorized activity on your bank account or credit card
- Utilities lose service
- There is an unexpected drop on your credit score
- Earnings that are not yours show on your Social Security Statements
How to Find Out More
If you find yourself dealing with any of the above-stated issues, you need to take action fast. Chances are you have a much larger problem. A first step is to use a service like Check People, to track your own information. By using Check People, you can get a comprehensive report that includes:
- Known addresses
- Social Media (someone may be impersonating you online, asking your connections for money)
- Court records
- Marital status
If there is any troublesome information on your report, you need to go further.
Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you have the right to get a free yearly credit report. Any unfamiliar changes are very important signs of warning.
Social Security Verification
Verify any irregular activity under your social security number. Check for variations in income declarations, or jobs registered in another county or state.
If you Confirm you are a Victim
The first step is to contact your bank and credit card providers, let them know what is happening and ask for identity theft insurance. Cancel cards and change all your passwords. Next, you need to file a police report, followed by a report with the Federal Trade Commission. Other important steps include:
- Freeze your credit. This will add a layer of protection, and credit reporting agencies will not be allowed to disclose any information.
- Sign up for a credit monitoring service; these will send you an alert whenever suspicious activity takes place.
- Strengthen security on your online accounts. Change passwords, and enable two-step verification whenever possible
How does Identity Theft happen?
There are many possibilities. Thieves may steal your mail or your wallet, which gives them access to information such as your full name and current address. But, more often, identity theft begins online. If your passwords are weak and you use public wifi access, it will be easy for criminals to crack them and get immediate access to your accounts. Some of the most common dangers are:
- Clicking links on emails from unknown senders. Most emails will have a warning statement or offer a prize in the subject line.
- Entering your information on false sites. Sometimes, criminals build sites that mirror reputable business sites, so you should always double-check the address, and make sure it starts with “https”.
- Some gaming sites or those offering illegal video downloads or viewings might bug your computer in order to crack your personal information. Remain far away from these.
- Leaving your computer unsupervised at public places such as cafes or airport stations.
- Sharing personal information via social media sites
The most vulnerable people when it comes to identity theft are elderly people. There are several reasons for this, including the fact that they are more trusting, and they lack technical skills. Be attentive to warning signs, which may include changes in their bank accounts (large withdrawals in a short period) and them speaking about new love or friends in need. If you are concerned for someone, go through the safety steps with them. If they are already victims, there is a special branch of the FBI that investigates fraud against the elderly. Identity theft may even happen after death, and next of kin can be deemed responsible, so it is very important to have a death certificate as soon as your loved one passes away.
Prevention is always better than dealing with the consequences of identity theft. Performing a simple background check on yourself once a year can help you catch identity theft issues faster and solve them easier. Notifying authorities of any unconventional activity will help you minimize risks. Whenever possible, ask for fraud insurance on your bank accounts and credit cards (most of them offer it, and there is a 48-hour to deny charges if something unusual happens). Most companies will also notify you when an unusual charge is made, in which case immediate action from your part is required.