According to the FBI, Americans 60 and older lost $1.7 billion to fraud in 2021. Unfortunately, these numbers are only expected to rise.
In the coming months, we’ll be working on putting out articles on various scams and frauds going on so that you and your loved ones can be in the know.
This month, however, we’re going to focus on the worst case – what to do if your identity is stolen.
What to do if Your Identity is Stolen
1. If you have Identity Theft Insurance, file a claim!
Some companies, such as LifeLock and Sontiq, offer identity theft protection plans. Additionally, some employers may offer identity theft resolution services as a job benefit or perk. Still other insurance providers (Chubb for one) may offer identity theft resolution as an enhanced insurance benefit.
Whatever your case, it is worth knowing what access to these services you may have.
2. Contact the financial companies!
If you’ve been notified of a fraudulent transaction, call the company whose account was impacted and notify them immediately. If your credit card number has been compromised through a card skimmer at a gas station or ATM, that may be enough.
If, however, you’ve noticed someone opening accounts in your name and impersonating your Social Security Number, you will want to be more proactive and notifying all companies at which you have accounts may be warranted.
3. File a report with the Federal Trade Commission!
Go to www.identitytheft.gov and select “Get Started”. Doing this will walk through the FTC’s reporting process and provide you with a recovery plan and prefilled letters and forms that you can take to your local police department to file and dispute any fraudulent charges.
Note that the FTC does not have the ability to pursue criminal charges. However, the information you provide may be used by law enforcement to track down the thieves.
4. Contact your local police department!
File a report with your local police department. Ask for a copy for your own records. While your local police department may be limited in their ability to act, having a documented recording of the report will prove useful later.
5. Contact a Credit Agency to Place a Fraud Alert!
Contact Experian (1-888-397-3742), Equifax (1-800-525-6285), or TransUnion (1-800-680-7289) and request a fraud alert be placed on your account. This will notify any creditors to examine applications with a closer look to better verify the identity of the applicant and that it is really you.
Note that you only need to contact one of the agencies. By requesting a fraud alert be placed with one of the agencies, they will be required to notify the other agencies of the alert.
How to be Proactive About Protecting Your Identity
Review your credit report annually!
At a minimum, everyone should check their credit report once a year. There is no cost to do so and reviewing your information will ensure you’re on top of what accounts are yours and what are not.
To access your free, annual, credit report, go to https://annualcreditreport.com
Freeze your credit!
At any time, you may initiate a credit freeze with one, two, or all three of the credit bureaus. To do so:
- Experian: Call 888-397-3742 or go to https://experian.com/freeze/center.html
- Equifax: Call 800-349-9960 or go to https://equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze
- TransUnion: Call 888-909-8872 or go to https://transunion.com/credit-freeze
Note that doing so will put a permanent freeze onto your account, which you will need to manually remove. If you plan on financing any purchases or applying for credit, you will need to remove this freeze to allow any future applications to go through.
Review your monthly statements!
Review your monthly credit card and bank statements, looking for anything out of place. Some scams prey on individuals not recognizing small charges at first and build their way up. Some scams prey on individuals receiving their monthly statements and promptly filing them in the “shred” folder. Know where your money is and what it’s being spent on.
Add increased security to your accounts!
Some banks or credit card companies will offer a security code as part of their process – all should provide that service if you but ask! Doing so can add a layer to the level of security a would-be thief has to penetrate to steal your information, data, and money.
Be On Guard!
Phishing or email scams are a common entry way for a thief to access your personal information. If an email looks “funny” or you don’t recognize it, give it a second glance:
- Is there a prize or gift they’re offering that you didn’t enter for?
- Do you have to pay taxes or shipping for this “free gift”?
- Is the sender creating a high-pressure or high-stress situation, compelling you to act ASAP to avoid further consequences?
Any of these can be telltale red flags.
If it looks funny, notify a loved one and get a second opinion before clicking or responding. Additionally, you can hover your mouse (without clicking!) over a link – does the website address that pops up match where the sender claims to be from?
Sign Up for Credit Monitoring!
Credit monitoring services do just that – they monitor your credit, looking for suspicious activity and notifying you when appropriate. Some companies (like LifeLock and IdentityForce) will charge a monthly or annual subscription while others (like Credit Karma) offer free services, making their money if you sign up for a product or service that it recommends (auto loan, mortgage, etc.).
If you ever have questions or want a second opinion, feel free to give us a call at 206-973-4488.
Equifax. (n.d.). Security freeze: Freeze or unfreeze your credit: Equifax®. Freeze or Unfreeze Your Credit. https://www.equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services/credit-freeze/
Experian. (n.d.). Freeze your credit file for Free. Freeze your credit file for free. https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
How-to guide: What to do if your identity is stolen. U.S. Bank. (2023, February 24). https://www.usbank.com/financialiq/manage-your-household/protect-your-assets/identity-stolen-5-steps-to-take-immediately.html
Internet crime complaint center (IC3). Internet Crime Complaint Center(IC3) | Industry Alerts. (n.d.). https://www.ic3.gov/Home/IndustryAlerts?pressReleasesYear=_2021
O’Shea, B. (2023, March 8). How to freeze your credit. NerdWallet. https://www.nerdwallet.com/article/finance/how-to-freeze-credit
TransUnion. (n.d.). Credit freeze | freeze my credit | transunion. Freeze My Credit. https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze