Identity theft is on the rise, fuelled by the increasing use of the internet, and social media. Scammers and fraudsters are finding ever new and sophisticated ways to exploit the weak and the vulnerable, and there seems little chance of the trend being reversed any time soon.
Although identity theft can happen in a variety of ways, regardless of the method, the outcome is still the same: your personal identifying information has been misused and it could have a serious impact on you, your reputation and your personal records — including those pertaining to your employment history, health and credit.
Although every identity theft case is unique, there is some general advice which should be followed as soon as you are aware, or even suspect, that your identity has been stolen.
1. Analyse your position
There are many types of identity theft so it is best to try and analyse how you might have been affected. If you are a victim, your case might involve one or more of the following types of fraud: credit, banking, taxes, employment, government benefits, medical, and criminal.
2. Contact your creditors
Get in touch with creditors with whom you have an account (e.g. banks, credit card companies, store cards, phone & utility companies) even if they have not been affected so they can monitor your accounts.
3. Monitor your credit score
Monitor your credit score with the relevant credit reference agencies – Experian, Equifax and Callcredit in the UK, and Experian, Equifax and TransUnion in the US, for example – and look for tell-tale signs of fraud, such as a sudden spate of credit applications and the setting-up of new credit accounts, all of which are likely to cause your score to fall.
While you cannot freeze your credit reports, you can ask each credit reference agency to add a note containing a password to your report. This acts as a security feature when lenders process a new application in your name. Obviously this will delay any genuine applications you make, but you might decide that the extra peace of mind is worth the inconvenience.
4. File a Police Report
You should file a report with your local police, although they might not do anything about it. This is not because they do not take such matters seriously, but because, sadly, identity theft is so common they do not have the resources to tackle it in any meaningful way. Still, proof that you have reported the matter to the police may be helpful when dealing with banks and credit reporting agencies.
5. Contact your bank and cancel your cards
As soon as you are aware that your identity has been compromised, you should contact your bank and ask them to cancel your existing credit and debit cards and issue you with new ones. This not only prevents any further fraudulent activity on your account, but also may allow you to recover any unauthorised expenditure on your accounts, albeit with a delay of several months.
6. Alert PayPal
If you have a PayPal account, contact them immediately, inform them of the situation and ask them to put a “stop” on your account (s) so that nobody can gain access to your funds. Remember to do this both for your personal and any business accounts you may have.
7. Contact your National fraud prevention service
Virtually every country has a national fraud prevention service such as CIFAS in the UK. If you think you have been a victim of identity theft you should consider subscribing to their protective registration service. They will place a note on your credit file indicating that your name and address may be used to perpetrate identity fraud.
In the US file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission.
8. Report your passport/ID card stolen
Report if your passport or ID card has been stolen immediately. Once you report a passport lost or stolen, it is invalid and cannot be used for international travel. Similarly, your current ID card will become invalid. You can replace them straight away, but do not leave them “live” in the hands of the fraudsters.
9. Change all your passwords
Best practice suggests that passwords used for all email, bank accounts and equivalents, and social media activity, should be changed regularly. This should be a matter of routine in any case, but especially so after your identity has been stolen. Remember to choose passwords that are hard to guess, and never save them on your computer, or share them on social media.
10. Social Security Number
If your Social Security Number has been compromised contact your local office and tax authorities – IRS in the US, HMRC in the UK, for example – and inform them as to what has happened. Never share your social security number or personal tax identification reference online.
Equally never share your child’s social security number with somebody you do not know well, even if they claim to be distant relatives. It is estimated that nearly 1.2 million Americans each year receive such emails asking them for details of their children’s social security number.
11. Check your computer for viruses
If you use your computer to access sensitive online accounts, a computer infected with malicious computer programs could allow a hacker to steal sensitive data you may be typing to manage online transactions, such as bank, credit card and other sensitive identification information. If you believe your computer is infected, run your anti-virus program to scan for any viruses that need to be removed.
12. Medical Theft
Examples of medical identity theft include someone using your insurance to see a doctor, obtain prescriptions, buy medical equipment or even file a false claim, and are often targeted at older citizens who do not monitor their credit as often, are more trusting of online interactions and may be dependent on others for their care.
In such instances, inform your doctor and other health providers what has happened, and also ask for a copy of your recent medical records to see if there have been any recent unauthorised entries. If you have a private health care plan, then inform the service provider as well.
13. Driving Licence
If your driving licence has been lost or stolen immediately contact the relevant government department and apply for a new licence. In the US it is the Department of Motor Vehicles, and the DVLA in the UK. You may still need to provide a new photo and pay your fees once more.
14. Keep a record of all your actions
Make a note of all the steps you have taken to address the situation. Include the numbers you called, the names of the people with whom you have spoken, the date of calls, and other emails or letters sent. Keep copies of any correspondence, reports, affidavits etc.
15. Don’t ignore the Activity
You must take action to prove you are the victim and that you are not the party responsible for the suspicious activity in question.