According to recent statistics from Transunion, approximately 9.9 Million people fall prey to identity theft every year. Even more concerning for consumers everywhere is that this is the fastest growing crime in America.
The theft or misuse of a credit or debit account is not considered a classic case of identity theft. However, people who have had their accounts breached by an unauthorized user need to take steps immediately to curtail further damages and illegitimate charges to their account(s).
Related: 10 warning signs you might be victim to identity theft
Depending on the severity of the breach, the entity using your account may have limited access to other personal data or may have gotten their hands on everything they need to ‘start their new lives’ using all of your personal info.
Most financial institutions and companies have advanced fraud protection in place. This allows them to alert consumers if they detect unusual behavior, suspicious charges or other questionable activity taking place on their accounts.
No matter whether you have had a credit card misused or you could be facing a full-scale identity theft, here are the steps you should take to manage the casualty and protect yourself against further damages.
Close The Compromised Accounts
If you have noticed unusual charges that you did not make or your financial institution contacts you to ask about suspicious charges on your account, ask that your accounts be closed immediately. This prevents further charges.
Open New Accounts
If your personal accounts or identity has been breached, the credit and lending institutions you work with will likely require you to open new accounts to replace the ones that have been compromised. Further, representatives of the companies should be willing to offer guidance and advice to avoid further damages. While this may be somewhat inconvenient, as new debit and credit cards must be issued, this stops the perpetrators cold.
Keep Reading: 5 tips to protect your mobile credit card data
File A Police Report
While most police departments do not put a lot of resources into investigating identity theft or unauthorized use of credit cards, having a police report on file with your local jurisdiction shows that you were proactive about the issue. Further, if there is a string of similar crimes taking place in the community your report could help lend clues to track down a thief operating locally.
File A Report With The Federal Trade Commission
In the event that your identity is confirmed to be stolen, it is imperative to file a report with the FTC. If you are a victim of unauthorized credit card charges, no FTC is required. Identity theft victims can file a report online at FTCComplaintAssistant.gov or by calling 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338).
Add A Fraud Alert To Your Credit Reports
If you know, or suspect, that your accounts have been compromised you can add a fraud alert to your credit report. This alert stays active for 90 days and notifies lenders or financial institutions to ask for additional identity verification before approving or opening up a new account. A Fraud Alert can be extended for as long as 7 years if needed. In extreme cases of identity theft, you also have the option of putting a “Credit Freeze” on your credit reports that dictate the Credit Reporting Agencies are not allowed to let anyone access your credit information. Before putting this safeguard in place, keep in mind that while it protects you, it can also make it more difficult for you to get loans or qualify for credit lines should you legitimately need it.
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Start Using A Credit Monitoring Services
Most people don’t spend a lot of time checking or worrying about their credit on a daily basis. If you suspect that you have fallen prey to an identity thief, signing up for a credit monitoring service is a smart idea. In some cases, the major credit reporting agencies offer this service for free to people who have had their data accessed by major breaches. To be alerted about any unusual activity on your report, you must sign up for the service, as there is no automatic enrollment.
Audit Your Accounts For Unapproved Transactions
Online access to bank and credit accounts makes it easier than ever for consumers to view their statement and audit their own account for unapproved transactions. People who do not use online statements should scrutinize their accounts when they get their monthly billing statements for unapproved transactions. If you discover charges that were not made or authorized by you, contact the financial institution as soon as possible to report the problem. You may also consider requesting that the account be closed for further consumer protection.
Keep An Eye Out For Activity You Don’t Recognize
If you do not have a credit monitoring service in place, it is your responsibility to watch for activity that you did not authorize. This could include new accounts that you did not open or credit inquiries from entities that you are not familiar with. Every consumer is entitled to one free copy of their credit report every year. Alternatively, you can purchase copies of your credit report for a fee. To access your free annual credit report use AnnualCreditReport.com.
Keep Reading: Is mobile banking safe?
Protect Your Identity Going Forward
As the old saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” To insure that you are less likely to be a victim again there are steps you can take to protect yourself. If you use online access to your accounts, use a strong password and NEVER share it with anyone that is not authorized to access the account. Further, never use public or shared computers or unsecured wireless networks to check your account, as this can leave security holes in your activity.
If you still receive paper documents that contain sensitive personal information, take care to destroy or shred these documents before disposing of them. This makes it harder for potential thieves to lift your data and use it against you.
You should also be mindful of what personal information that is available on Social Media websites. Avoid making information like your phone number, address, your mother’s maiden name and other pertinent data that is commonly used as security questions from financial institutions. Sadly, not everyone on Social Media websites is really your friend!
These days, the more things you can do to protect your identity and your account information, the better. While we hope that this never happens to you, we hope that this article helps you with what needs to be done in case it does.
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