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Identity theft is one of the scariest things that can happen. Someone steals your personal and/or financial information (think: birthdate, Social Security number, credit card info) and tries to open accounts in your name or sell this information to cybercriminals. The resulting headache is time-consuming, costly, and stressful. Unfortunately, it’s also more common than you might think.
What to do if you suspect identity theft
If you suspect your identity has been stolen, you should act immediately. Some telltale signs: strange emails asking you to follow up on a request to open an account or phone calls from credit card companies about cards you didn’t open. (Better to be safe than sorry!)
- Request a copy of your credit report.
- Contact any businesses on your credit report that don’t look familiar and let them know you suspect identity theft.
- Report your potential identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
- Report it to the three major credit reporting agencies: Equifax, TransUnion, Experian.
- File a police report while you investigate.
What to do if your identity is stolen
Now that the immediate danger is over, it’s time to begin undoing the damage that's been done. Follow these steps to restore your identity:
Alert anyone or any business affected by the theft of your identity. Ask to speak to the Fraud Department for faster service.
Close any new accounts unlawfully opened in your name. The prevalence of identity theft may work in your favor; companies know you’re not at fault for what’s going on and most want to help.
Ask for documentation of the closed accounts for your records.
If your credit was impacted by identity theft, reach out to the three main credit reporting agencies. Here's a sample letter and mailing addresses for each. You have the legal right to remove fraudulent instances from your report.
Consider freezing your credit. During a credit freeze, no new inquiries or requests for new lines of credit will be accepted.
If you suspect your Social Security Number has been used in fraudulent activity, you can report it at ssa.gov/myaccount or by contacting your local Social Security Administration Office. There you can also request a new Social Security card if yours was stolen.
The same is true with any government-issued ID that was stolen, including your driver’s license. Apply for new IDs and let the issuing agency know your original was stolen and perhaps used for fraudulent purposes.
If fraudulent activity has resulted in debt collection, notify debt collectors of the fraud as soon as possible. You have the legal right to ask debt collectors to stop reporting your so-called delinquency to credit reporting agencies in the case of suspected identity theft.
Hopefully it doesn’t get to this, but make sure there are no pending criminal charges against you that resulted from your stolen identity. You can file a police report if you suspect your identity was used in a crime. It may come in handy to keep a copy of the report until all charges are cleared.
If you get any mail about utility bills in your name that you didn’t open, contact the utility companies directly and let them know to immediately cut off service. Offer to provide them a copy of the police report.
The emotional toll of identity theft
Identity theft is, no doubt, a headache-inducing hassle. If you're one of the many unfortunate victims of identity theft, you'll spend hours upon hours (an average of 600, to be more specific*) trying to restore what's rightfully yours — replacing credit cards, closing bank accounts, or changing passwords. But for some victims, it can be a life-altering experience that also causes serious emotional problems.
The first feeling that victims may experience following the theft of an identity is typically anger. But after the initial shock, other challenging and long-term emotions may come into play.
Victims reported everything from feeling a sense of betrayal, to shame, embarrassment, and suicidal thoughts, an ITRC study of identity theft victims found.
More so, identity theft issue can also manifest as physical symptoms.
That same ITRC study showed 39% of respondents experienced an inability to focus, 29% reported new physical ailments (sweating, body pain, heart, and stomach issues). Sleep issues plagued 41% of people, and 23% feared for their physical safety.
What you can do to protect yourself against identity theft
Identity theft is a painful process that takes a toll on those affected. Not to mention, the time it takes to recover is jolting. Depending on several factors (including the amount of time you have to spend fighting), it can take upwards of 6 months to get everything resolved.
From potential credit dings all the way to illegal activities perpetrated in your name, it’s no wonder so many people opt for professional identity theft monitoring and protection.
Before we go, we'd be remiss to not mention our favorite identity fraud protection service. It’s got three pricing structures for you and up to 10 family members — and a multi-faceted approach to credit and identity monitoring. (Not to mention restoration services, so you don’t have to spend half your year fighting fraudsters.)
Kasasa Care’s identity protection plans (made possible in partnership with industry-leading Experian®) gives you control of the kind of protection that works best for you and your loved ones. You can read about all of the different identity protection plan options here. Stay safe out there!
*2021 SANS Institute — Identity Theft