By Jocelyn Baird, NextAdvisor.com
Identity theft is a crime that a shocking amount of Americans face at one point or another in their lives, thanks in part to the rise in data breaches which spread personal information far and wide for criminals to easily get their hands on. Add in other methods of identity theft, such as familiar fraud, and you’ve got the recipe for a whole lot of trouble. No matter how your identity is misused, one of the most important things you should do after you discover it is to report identity theft. It can be easy to convince yourself that it doesn’t matter, but there are a good number of reasons why it’s important to report identity theft as soon as possible. We outline why you should always sound the alert, as well as how you can go about doing so.
Why you shouldn’t stay quiet about identity theft
According to a 2017 study on fraud released by Javelin Strategy & Research, fraud showed a sustained increase in 2016, jumping 16% to affect 6.15% of consumers, up from 5.30% in 2015. As a result, an additional 2 million Americans were victimized, and it’s likely that this pattern of growth will continue. While the victims of identity theft can experience a wide range of feelings afterward, from shock and violation to anger and shame, it’s important not to let any of those stop you from reporting the crime to any and all pertinent businesses and agencies. Not only will doing so ensure that you restore your good name and clear up any fraud committed using your information before it negatively impacts you and your finances too badly, but it also helps law enforcement and other entities that investigate and combat these crimes to know when and how they’re happening to people in real time. Resources, especially at a governmental level, are generally allocated based on need — accurate, timely reporting of identity theft goes a long way to ensuring that all victims get the help they deserve.
How can you report identity theft?
So, you’ve discovered that someone used your name to open up a utilities account in another state, or you’ve noticed a series of fraudulent charges on your credit card statement. It can be scary and confusing to realize that you’ve been a victim of identity theft. You might find yourself wondering what the extent of the damage is and how it will impact you in the future. Here are some steps you should follow to report identity theft and hopefully prevent it from continuing.
1. Contact the businesses where the identity theft has occurred. First things first, you will want to stop the fraud in its tracks. Identity theft can take a great many forms, but most of it can be traced back to specific companies or businesses that will definitely want to know that someone is misusing your information to do business with them. Most credit card companies, loan services, banks, utility companies and similar businesses have fraud departments that you can contact to disclose the identity theft and get the accounts closed or suspended. You may also need to change the login or verification information for your own accounts, if those are being misused as well.
2. Get in touch with the credit bureaus. In addition to obtaining copies of all three of your credit reportsfrom the credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion), you should also strongly consider placing a fraud alert on your credit files or going for a full-out credit freeze. You can obtain free copies of your credit reports once a year through the government owned-and-operated website AnnualCreditReport.com; however, as a victim of identity theft, you can request an additional free copy of your reports. That said, you are probably going to want to check your credit reports regularly throughout the next year or two for any new problems or to ensure that existing fraud gets successfully removed. As such, you should strongly consider signing up for an identity theft protection service, most of which provide constant access to regularly updated credit reports along with black market monitoring for the personal information most commonly used by identity thieves.
3. File reports with the FTC and your local police. Whether you file a police report or not is ultimately up to you, though it may be required by some businesses to get charges reversed or accounts closed, and it can be helpful in the future if you continue to have problems. No matter what, you should definitely file a report with the Federal Trade Commission to document the fraud. The agency has set up an easy-to-use website, IdentityTheft.gov, specifically for this purpose. Following its simple checklist format, you will be guided through the reporting process and then presented with a customized recovery plan.
4. Assess and repair the damage. It can be overwhelming, but thanks to the thorough checklist offered by the FTC’s website, you can find advice to help you work on repairing the damage done no matter what kind of identity theft you’ve experienced. Some types of identity theft, such as tax identity theft and child identity theft, require special actions, so it’s important that you read through everything in your action plan and follow it to prevent leaving any gaps criminals can wiggle through to continue abusing your identity. You will want to continue going through your bank account statements, credit reports and other information (such as your medical insurance Explanation of Benefits statements) to check for further misuse.
Tackling identity theft does not end with reporting it, but if you are persistent and consistent, you can make a full recovery. To learn more about protecting yourself against identity theft and other fraud, as well as get tips for dealing with the latest scams and cybercrimes targeting Americans, follow our identity theft protection blog.
This blog post originally appeared on NextAdvisor.com.