What to Do If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft

Ben HartmanByBen HartmanApr. 01, 2019
A man feeling worried after finding out that he's a victim of ID theft
The ease with which we can handle the minutiae of daily life online has made taking care of chores quicker than ever before. At the same time, our digital lives and the ease with which we give away our details has opened countless innocent people to the threat of identity theft.

What is identity theft?

The ease with which we can handle the minutiae of daily life online has made taking care of chores quicker than ever before. At the same time, our digital lives and the ease with which we give away our details has opened countless innocent people to the threat of identity theft. 

What is identity theft? It’s the use of someone else’s identity or personal information—like a Social Security number or driver’s license—to carry out fraud. According to a report by Javelin, 16.7 million people in the US fell victim to identity theft in 2018, an increase of 8% over 2017. The losses amounted to some $16.8 billion, according to the report.

If you are the victim of identity theft, it can mean serious financial loss and damage to your credit that could take some time to repair. It can be emotionally and psychologically damaging to fall victim to identity theft, and leave your trust and confidence wounded. With your details leaked, it can also mean a loss of privacy, as well as a real blow to your feeling of security.

How do people fall victim 

How does it happen? There are all types of ways that someone can fall victim to identity theft. Data breaches—which are on the rise in recent years—can see your details pilfered from a financial institution and left free for the taking, while hackers using malware or phishing attacks can easily worm their way into your computer or devices and steal your personal detail. There is also the threat of simple, old-fashioned theft—somebody could swipe your phone off the table at a cafe or pick your pocket at a bus stop and that's all it takes. 

After they’re stolen, your details can even be sold to the highest bidder on the 

Dark Web or other online marketplaces. Programs like Identity Guard include “black market” monitoring, which can search for your details in these marketplaces and take action.

Though anybody can ultimately fall victim, taking some simple precautions can keep you safer. Make sure to take precautions online when it comes to phishing attacks, malware, and suspicious websites and emails, and make sure that all of your devices are password-protected and that you use complicated—and different—passwords for your social media accounts. You should have apps like Find My iPhone installed on your device in the event they are lost or stolen. A number of products like Norton LifeLock can provide security for your devices, and notify you in the event of suspicios bank or credit card activity, or usage of your Social Security number. 

How to know if you’ve been a victim

You suddenly find charges on your statements that you didn’t make. The scammer may be starting with a small purchase to see if any alarm bells go off, so if something doesn’t sound right, don't wait for the chagres to pile up. You could also start seeing bills for an entirely different credit card in your name, one that you never knew you had. A number of companies can help you prevent this, including Experian IdentityWorks, which will send you a real-time alert if someone applies for credit in your name. 

You may also find sudden changes in your credit report as well as receive calls from collection agencies. You may find that you’re not receiving mail from certain accounts, which could mean that scammers have changed the mailing address for your accounts. In addition,you may see that your credit card is denied, indicating that someone else has been using it and has exceeded the limit. With products like Panda, you can personally set a charge limit on your cards and receive a notification when it is exceeded. 

Basically, if something sounds off, trust your gut and look into it. It shouldn't’ take long to call the credit card company to get some clarity about the charge and to file a report if you believe you were the victim of theft.

What can identity theft cost you?

Your details can be used to open up credit card accounts in your name, to steal your tax refunds, or access your bank accounts, to name just a few ways it can cause you some serious headaches, and leave you having to pick up the pieces. 

Personal information is used for credit card fraud in 16.8% of identity theft cases, according to an Insurance Information Institute report, which also found that new credit card accounts were opened in 12.7% of cases, and that bank fraud took place in 6.4% of instances. 

Employment fraud is also very common, and can be a way for scammers to use your details to get employment or file a tax return. This type of fraud can take a while to become apparent, and also be quite difficult to undo. 

If your credit takes a hit, you’ll probably have to contact your financial institution and credit card provider in order to contest the charges and work to repair your credit.

It appears I fell victim to identity theft, what now?

If you are the victim of identity theft, there are a number of steps you can take immediately to right the ship. First things first you should report the suspected theft to the Federal Trade Commission’s website and then contact your financial institution—if your cards are provided through your bank or credit union. You should also file a report with credit bureaus like Experian or Equifax in order to begin repairing any damage that may be done—our could be on the way. 

Your institution may then cancel your cards so that they can't run up any more charges, at which point you should order new cards. Go online and change the passwords to all of your social media accounts and online banking accounts. You can also file a police report, so that they can take steps to investigate the theft. In addition, this will help establish the paper trail you may need in place when you start contesting charges and damage done to your credit history.

What are some of the top brands

Today you can find a number of programs that you can sign up for that can watch your back and alert you if you fall victim to identity theft. Most of these services, like Norton LifeLock, Experian IdentityWorks, MyFico, Identity Guard, and Panda, don’t prevent any and all identity theft attempts, rather, they monitor your credit score, bank accounts, and other personal details, as a sort of early warning system in the event that your identity is stolen. These programs will see if there is a change in your credit score, suspicious charges, address changes, or even if your personal details appear for sale on the Dark Web. They can also help you repair your credit post-identity theft. 

Simply put, these services will stay on watch and help you take decisive action to stave off an attack, and to pick up the pieces afterwards. Take a look at the top brands and the services they provide, and you’ll be closer to making the decision that’s right for you.

Ben HartmanByBen HartmanJun. 17, 2019
Ben Hartman is a writer focused on the worlds of tech, criminology, and genealogy, and how it all plays out in the human experience.