According to Consumer Affairs, the U.S. experienced a 311% increase in identity theft victims from 2019 to 2020. This is partly due to the number of people working from home. Working on your own devices and away from corporate networks can provide an easier and more lucrative path for attackers.
To minimize the damage, here are 7 steps to take if you find yourself a victim of identity theft.
- Freeze your credit
Initiate a credit freeze at all three credit bureaus, including Experian, TransUnion and Equifax as soon as possible. It’s free to do so and you can lift the freeze at any time or for just a specific time period, which is helpful if you are applying for new credit.
It’s also a good idea to add a credit freeze for your children, as minor identity theft can go undetected for years. A good overview and steps to do so can be found here, as the process is a bit more involved and can’t be done online.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports
In addition to a credit freeze, you can also place a fraud alert on your credit report by contacting any one of the three credit bureaus above. The credit bureau you contact has to inform the other two and place an alert on your credit report. This alert is active for one year. It will require creditors to verify identity before opening new credit, whereas a credit freeze is meant to keep new credit from being opened.
- Report your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Identifytheft.gov is a free resource for reporting and recovering from identity theft. You input your information and type of theft and they create a personalized plan for you, including pre-filled letters and forms. Your Identity Theft Report also acts as proof that your identity was stolen.
- Review your credit report for suspicious activity
Once your personal information has been compromised, it can easily be circulated and sold on the dark web. This means identity theft often isn’t a one time occurrence, and could easily happen again, so it’s important to remain vigilant.
By law, you are entitled to at least one free credit report from each of the three agencies annually. During the pandemic you can request a free weekly credit report. An easy way to do so is by utilizing annualcreditreport.com.
Once obtained, look for any accounts you may not recognize. If you find any fraudulent information, reach out to the three credit bureaus to have it removed. The FTC has a sample letter you can reference to draft your request. Make sure to include a copy of your Identity Theft Report from step three.
- Review all your accounts for unauthorized charges and notify companies of your stolen identity
Early detection is key to lessening the headaches of identity theft, so it’s important to act fast.
In addition to the Fair Credit Billing Act, which limits the liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50, most credit cards have policies and protections in place for cardholders who are victims of identity theft.
ATM or debit cards fall under a different act which isn’t as forgiving, giving consumers as little as two business days to report unauthorized charges before the max loss limit increases.
Moving forward, you can set an approval limit for all credit card charges. You would then be notified of any charges beyond the amount you set, requiring you to approve them via email or text. The notifications will tell you the retailer, address and the dollar amount, which can prove helpful in the event of future fraudulent charges.
It also wouldn’t hurt to be proactive and reach out to other accounts, like your health insurance company, to make sure they are aware of the fraud in case someone attempts to use your policy.
At Uplevel, we monitor our clients’ Charles Schwab accounts daily for any unusual activity. Schwab also doesn’t provide account information or allow any funds to be sent to third parties without client signatures and verbal confirmations.
- Tighten security on your accounts
Change your passwords and consider using a password manager like LastPass or 1Password that auto generates strong passwords for you. At the very least, refrain from using easy to guess passwords like your birthday. Don’t use the same password for multiple sites.
It’s also a good idea to set up two-factor authentication across all your various accounts, including your email. This will require a password and another method of verification via a code sent to you by email or text in order to access an account.
- Make sure your software is always kept up to date
According to an Apple specialist, the first few days after a software update is released can be the most critical. This is when a vulnerability has been identified and most people haven’t updated their software yet, hence providing an opportunity to hackers.
Recovering from identity theft is possible, it just takes time, a good amount of legwork, and patience. We’re here to help.