Having your identity stolen is among the most devastating situations anyone can face. Knowing that someone has your bank or credit card number, driver’s license, health insurance ID, social security number or other personal information can trigger fear, anger and bewilderment about how this could happen to you. In fact, it’s estimated that one out of five Americans will become a victim of identity theft every year. Thieves can get your personal information in a growing number of ways. Their methods can include:
- Pick-pocketing your wallet
- Rummaging through your trash for bank, credit and tax information
- Grabbing credit card slips left behind at restaurants and other establishments
- Telephone, text and online scams posing as your bank, using creative computer programs and hacking
Once they have your personal information, thieves can use it to drain your bank account, run up credit card charges, open new accounts in your name, rent an apartment, buy a house, apply for insurance, and even get medications or treatments in your name.
It’s important to know the signs of ID theft and, if you’re a victim, how to act fast to recover your identity and restore your credit. Here’s what you should know.
Watch for red flags
Any one of these signs could signal identity theft and that you should take action:
Debt collection notices/phone calls or unfamiliar accounts on your credit reports.
Unexplained or unfamiliar bank account withdrawals, charges on credit card or bank statements, or your medical plan’s Explanation of Benefits statement.
Merchants refusing checks.
Denial of a medical claim because your health plan says you’ve reached your benefits limit or show a condition you do not have.
Junk mail with suspicious activity, which may alert you to a change of address or new credit cards that have been ordered. Or, you are not receiving bills or other mail that you should be getting.
Notification that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
What to do if you are a victim: ACT FAST!
Follow these initial steps as soon as you notice a fraudulent charge on a bank statement, discover that your credit/bank cards, driver’s license, checks or other personal information has been stolen, or if you’ve been a victim of a security breach.
- Contact the FTC to submit a complaint; create an Identity Theft Affidavit for an Identity Theft Report. An Identity Theft Report helps you deal with credit reporting companies, debt collectors, and businesses that opened accounts in your name. To create an Identity Theft Affidavit, go to: https://www.consumer.ftc.gov
- Take the Identity Theft Affidavit to the police to get an Identity Theft Report. You’ll need this document to dispute fraudulent charges and for proof of a crime, get fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft or from selling the debt to another company for collection.
- Place an initial (90-day) Fraud Alert on your credit file A free fraud alert placed through the three national credit reporting companies notifies businesses that they must take extra precautions to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. It also entitles you to a free credit report from each of the credit bureaus. You only need to place a fraud alert at one bureau, which will notify the other two. To get started, go to: consumer.ftc.gov
- Notify any affected businesses, creditors, institutions or agencies like your credit card company, bank, the department of motor vehicles or Social Security Administration. Talk to the fraud department about the next steps, which may include changing account numbers, passwords and PINs; stopping payments on checks that have not cleared; and getting new credit/bank cards. If automatic bill payments have been set up, update them with your new number.
- Keep careful records of your communications; send only copies of required documents and keep the originals in a safe place.
If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to our EAP+Work/Life Program, our services offer programs to assist you with managing the many complexities of these events. We can connect you with legal professionals who can advise you, and provide a free telephone consultation with a certified financial counselor. Our website also provides articles and resources on identity theft.
If you’re a Health Advocate member with our Advocacy services, contact us to speak with a Personal Health Advocate who can help you identify resources to contact.