Identity theft can happen quickly but the damage that is left for the victim to clean up is rarely dealt with as fast. Identity theft can happen in a variety of ways with thieves looking to steal debit and credit card information and Social Security numbers. With this information thieves can ruin excellent credit scores, apply for mortgages and even file false medical claims. However, there are ways in which you can prevent identity theft and take action if it happens to you.
One prevention method is to constantly be checking your bank statements. By keeping tabs on what is being charged or withdrawn, you could easily point out a faulty charge if a thief ever tried to use your account to their benefit. Also, by consistently checking your bank statements it’s easier to freeze the account and maybe receive a refund on any faulty charges rather than having to cancel it altogether. Next, review your credit reports. The three main credit agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian, are required to give you a copy of your credit report, if requested, by law once a year. Another great tip is to use your credit card for online purchases. This is a somewhat safer route because it is not directly linked to your checking and savings accounts like your debit card. Other important and basic prevention tips include shredding documents with personal information and never carrying your Social Security card in your wallet. In addition, be wary of the information you give out online and change your passwords every couple of months.
What if you find that you’ve become a victim?:
First, try not to panic and calmly go over how you were robbed and what account the thief has access to. Was it a faulty charge on your debit or credit card? If so, notify your bank or credit card provider immediately. Let them know the amount of the charge and when it occurred and ask them to freeze your accounts. Next, you will need to notify the one of the three major credit agencies listed above so they can put out a fraud alert. The alert will remain on your credit report for 90 days and the agency will automatically issue you a free updated report. Once you receive the updated report, review it thoroughly for any suspicious activities such as accounts that you didn’t open. Make a report with your local police department and with the Federal Trade Commission. Once the various reports are made, as with other important documents, make copies and file them away in a safe place.
If you experience identity theft in a larger scale there are other steps you may need to take and there is even a way to put out an extended fraud alert that can last up to seven years. In the meantime, be sure to always use the internet wisely and protect your information. In addition, if a scanning device at a gas pump or ATM looks odd or that it may have been tampered with make sure to let the manager or an employee at the establishment know.
If it comes to the point where your identity theft has caused you to go into debt, call the counselors at Debt Helper and ask about the different services they offer that may help lower your debt.
The New York Times