Cyber security is more of a threat than ever, with a reported 15 million Americans becoming victims of identity theft each year. Sometimes the damage is minimal, and getting it resolved won't cost you more than a headache. Other times, however, it can be catastrophic, which is why a lot of education is around how to prevent credit and identity theft.
But what if it's already happened? What are the steps you should take if someone steals your identity?
Here are the seven most basic steps you can walk through if it happens to you:
1.) Cancel all of your cards
Even though it may appear that only one has been compromised, all of the credit cards may be affected, so better safe than sorry. While you're on the phone with the credit card companies, set up a two-step verification, that way in case anyone dials in attempting to be you, they'll have to give a password in order to access your account.
2.) Change all the passwords to your online accounts
3.) Place an alert on your credit report immediately.
You can report it to Experian via this link and they will also notify Transunion and Equifax. You'll place an alert and leave your phone number so anytime someone tries to take out a loan or do something requiring a credit check, you'll get a phone call.
If you do it yourself, they expire in 90 days, so make a calendar reminder in 90 days time to go back and set the fraud alert again.
4.) Check Your Credit Report Too
Once you've been notified of a breach, go ahead and either order a copy of your credit report (you get one for free, from all three bureaus, once each year.) Or you can download online and print, although you won't be able to access again for free until the next year. Check for any odd or suspicious activity, and check ALL OF THEM. Sometimes things show up on one report that do not on another (which happened in my case when my identity was stolen last year) Once/if you find something move to number 5.
5.) Write a letter (ASAP) and ask to remove the fraudulent activity from your report
For this one you'll have to write to each credit bureau separately since each one reports differently/different activity. You'll need to mail a letter stating the charge is fraudulent, the details of why it is so, and mail them a copy of your ID and a utility bill or bank/insurance statement to prove you are who you say you are.
Hopefully, this will do the trick, but it could take a few weeks.
6.) Put yourself on the opt-out list
It is happening less and less, but people do still receive pre-approved credit offers in the mail. Put yourself on the opt-out list by going here, filling out the form and then mailing it. I suspect my identity may have been stolen because someone has been tampering with my mail.
7.) Get a shredder
In case you keep getting these offers, shred em, and shred any old documents with your social security number on them. Identity theft is a largely digital crime, but you NEVER know. It could literally happen anywhere.
8.) invest in on-going credit monitoring.
I'm normally pretty good about keeping a check on my score every month through free tools like Quizzle and Credit Karma and checking in on my accounts once a month while I'm reconciling my budget.
It's not a fool-proof system, but in case someone does get an account/card open in your name, you'll be able to spot it. You can also pay per month for Life Lock, or some other company to track your credit for you.
I invested in credit monitoring for the entire year after my identity was stolen. It was very low cost, and it provided an incredible peace of mind in those early months after it happened. It's always best to ensure a) your credentials aren't stolen again and b) that the original perp isn't letting some time pass before trying to use your information again.
9.) File a Police Report: In the event it's been a minute and someone has stolen your identity and had some activity (not just attempted to access your accounts, but actually charged or opened a loan account or card and is using it) you will have to file a police report.
Any other tips for when identity theft occurs?