With nearly 9 million Americans falling victim to identity theft and other fraudulent activities every year, it is important to know the signs of an identity theft and the proper preemptive measures to take. An identity thief can have, on average, a three month head to start to open new lines of credit, obtain loans, or commit crimes without the victim having a clue. An identity theft does not just happen by chance and leaves behind many signs. Once a person is able to identity the signs quickly and effectively, they can spoil an identity thief’s plan before any real damage is done. If an identity theft does occur and the victim knows what to look for and the proper steps to take, it can dramatically reduce the amount of time it takes to remove any negative consequences of fraud. It is an unfortunate circumstance, but when a person’s identity is stolen they are held accountable unless the proper safeguards are taken.
To avoid being a victim of cyber crime a person must be well-informed and always one-step ahead of the identity thieves. A person must always stay alert and maintain up-to-date information. Even though most identity thefts take three months to discover, many signs are left when an identity theft occurs. One of the biggest red flags is the appearance of charges on credit cards and other accounts that were not authorize, or receiving payment invoices of items he or she did not purchase. A person should also regularly check for inaccurate information found on credit reports. This could include aliases, previous employers, or newly opened accounts. Another sign of identity theft is continuously missing bills. Bills that never show up, but should be receiving can mean an ID thief has taken over the accounts. Always follow-up with creditors to ensure payments have been made and personal information has been updated. A person may find that they have credit cards that he or she did not authorize or sign-up for. This does not mean the prescreened ones that must be applied for, but actual ready-to-use credit cards. Another major sign of identity theft is having a credit check come back negative causing higher interest rates or being denied credit in general. This is assuming the person has good credit and should not be denied or be given unfavorable credit terms.
Personal information should be monitored habitually. A person can detect identity theft sooner if they routinely check their account information. The main information to monitor is personal accounts/financial statements and credit reports. Personal Accounts should be monitored closely. Even if these accounts are for limited use, examining the accounts at least once a month should be a priority. Financial statements should be looked over thoroughly to check for any unexplained charges or incorrect balances, all of which should be taken care of immediately. All accounts, such as credit cards, should be used at least once per month to make sure accounts are still valid, and that monthly statements are being correctly sent. A personal credit report should also be monitored at least once a year. Federal law mandates that the three credit reporting companies must give a free copy of the credit report once per year. Along with the free credit report, a person should access their credit report and monitor it another one or two times every year to ensure information is kept up to date and to detect any early warnings of identity theft. Since each credit bureau calculates scores differently it is important to monitor all three. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act, a free credit report may be requested within 60-days of being declined credit or housing, or if an unfavorable action is brought against you due to the report.
Although the number of victims and fraud amount has decreased over the last few years, this crime is more popular than ever since it is low-risk and high-reward for the criminals. The unfortunate victims of identity theft face an average resolution time of 25 hours per person, but a few things can be done to ensure everything is back to normal as quickly and painlessly as possible. If you are afraid that your identity may have been stolen or fraudulently used, action must be taken immediately to make sure that the damage to money, credit, and reputation are minimal. If there are any concerns and feel an identity theft has occurred, the first thing to do is file a report with the FTC and personally report it to the local or state police department. Unfortunately, many police departments take this crime lightly, but a documented record of the fraud is important to have, especially in case any warrants have been issued in the victim’s name. The Federal Trade Commission has a great list of resources and forms to have for the victim of an ID theft. The FTC website will walk you through creating an Identity Theft Report, which will ensure certain protections. This report will permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on any future credit reports. It will also ensure any debts caused by identity theft will not appear, or reappear, on the credit report, or allow a company to collect money for debts placed by an identity theft. An Identity Theft Affidavit, which is a less detailed version of the Identity Theft Report, should also be prepared in case a company needs to see the records of the theft before releasing information. Having this information will offer protection from the misuse of information, especially if the thief has been committing crimes in the victim’s name. Creditors or even the Credit Bureaus may still deny credit in the future if the Identity Theft Report is not detailed enough or is incomplete. Any accounts that have been compromised or corrupted should be closed immediately. Each company will have their own method of dealing with these claims, which may include fraud dispute forms, or simply writing a letter to the company. Keep a detailed record of all correspondences and if anything needs to be mailed use certified mail with return receipt services so you can keep a detailed log of the situation.
While these methods are used to help protect a victim from further damage due to an identity theft, it is not the end-all solution. Identity thieves can still open up accounts with utility companies, and other such companies that do not require a credit check, and can also still use existing accounts that have already been established by the credit bureaus. A theft victim should also place a fraud alert with one of the credit bureaus, which will relay the message to the others. This entitles the victim to a free copy of their credit reports so they can check for any fraudulent or unauthorized activity. Fraud alerts can take two forms: initial or extended, or the victim may wish to place a freeze on his or her credit. An initial fraud alert, used mostly by people who fear they may be a victim, will stay active for 90 days and forces creditors to go through a bit more stringent of a process to access your credit and verify your identity. An extended fraud alert requires an Identity Theft Report and is for people who have actually been a victim of identity theft. This type of alert allows for two free credit reports per year and will show up on the victim’s credit for 7 years. Extended alerts require creditors to personally contact the victim, whether by phone or in person, to grant credit. A freeze is basically the person restricting any access to their credit report and must temporarily be lifted for anyone to view the credit report. The freeze must be placed with each bureau and limits a thief from being able to open accounts since creditors have no access to the credit score.
An identity theft victim should not delay the resolution process. Many companies require you to file a claim within a certain time period so it is important to contact them quickly before any unnecessary time elapses. The longer the victim waits, the more damage is done to his or her reputation and credit. It is already a long and arduous journey to get back to “normal” and prolonging the resolution process will only end up making the situation much worse. These tips should be done regularly so the identity theft can be thwarted. The ultimate sacrifice, and last resort, is for the victim to change Social Security numbers because of the theft. The best preventative measure is to stay on task and report any irregularities as soon as possible. In the unfortunate case a fraud has occurred, action should be taken immediately so the healing process can begin.