February 10, 2022 Fraud & Scams
How to Deal with an Identity Theft
Since last week was Identity Theft Awareness Week, we wanted to share a few tips from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) on signs of someone stealing your identity and what you can do if identity theft happens to you.
Why Would Someone Steal My Identity?
There are many reasons why someone would want to steal your identity, including getting a credit card or opening a service in your name, using your credit card and/or taking money out of your account(s), stealing your tax refund, using your social security number to get work, or using your information to file an unemployment benefits claim.
How Do I Know My Identity Has Been Stolen?
Some signs that your identity may have been compromised include:
- Finding accounts and/or inquiries you don’t recognize on your credit report.
- Finding purchases or withdrawals you didn’t make on credit card or bank statements.
- Receiving a notice from the IRS that they got more than one tax return in your name.
- Receiving a notice that you have income from an employer you don’t actually work for.
- Receiving a notice from a state unemployment office or an employer about unemployment benefits you didn’t apply for.
In order to stay ahead of any identity thieves, you should be proactive about checking your credit report. The FTC recommends getting a free credit report from annualcreditreport.com. If the thief is using your information to open a new account or take out a loan, it will appear as a new account on your credit report. If they are using your information to pay for a service like a cell phone plan or their utilities, it will appear as a new inquiry on your credit report.
You should also regularly pay attention to your bank account and/or credit card statements. You can easily catch an unauthorized charge through accessing your account online daily, but if that feels like too much for you, be sure to review your statements as soon as they arrive every month. You should also contact your bank as soon as you notice an unauthorized charge. If it’s easier for you, you can set up text or email alerts from your bank for whenever there’s a new transaction on your account.
Placing a Credit Freeze
There are two free resources you can take advantage of if you determine your identity has been stolen: placing a credit freeze or placing a fraud alert.
Credit freezes are a great way to protect yourself from a thief opening new accounts in your name. Potential creditors will usually check your credit report before giving you credit. If you place a freeze, they won’t be able to access your credit report, so they are more likely to deny thieves new credit in your name.
A freeze does not affect your credit score, and you can still use your existing credit cards, as well as do things like apply for jobs, rent apartments, or buy insurance. A credit freeze will stay in effect until you remove it, and you can always temporarily lift the freeze if you want to apply for new credit.
It’s a good idea to place a credit freeze if you know you experienced identity theft or had your information exposed in a data breach. Placing and lifting a credit freeze is free, but you do have to contact all three of the national credit bureaus any time you want to do so. The three major national credit bureaus are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
Placing a Fraud Alert
A fraud alert is another thing you can do to make it harder for thieves to open new accounts in your name. A fraud alert does not limit a creditor’s access to your credit report, but it does tell them to check with you to make sure it’s actually you opening the account instead of an imposter. They usually call you to verify.
You can place a fraud alert by contacting any of the three national credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion). The one you notify must notify the other two. A fraud alert lasts for one year, but if you have confirmed identity theft, you can get an extended fraud alert. This lasts for seven years. You can always renew the fraud alert for free, too.
For more information, check out this guide to credit freezes and fraud alerts from the FTC.
In addition to taking the steps above, you may wish to report the identity theft to the FTC and get a recovery plan. You can do this by visiting IdentityTheft.gov. You’ll be prompted through the process of reporting what happened. Make sure to provide as much detail as you can. You’ll then be given a recovery plan that allows you to track your progress through the steps you need to take. The site even helps by providing pre-filled letters and forms for you. IdentityTheft.gov also has a great list of some of the recovery steps you may need to take.
Don’t forget to contact the Wisconsin Senior Medicare Patrol if you believe you are a victim of fraud!