It was four years ago this week we learned of a massive security breach at Equifax. We know that roughly half of us have our info floating around on the sinister "dark web", the place where identities are sold in bulk. I was impacted along with 143 million other lucky Americans, and all thanks to Equifax.
I.D. theft is an ongoing issue and became an even bigger problem in 2020 over 2019. Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission reported it received 1.4 million reports of I.D. theft in 2020, about twice as many as in 2019.
What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
Here are some important first steps for you should you discover that you have indeed had your identity stolen:
- First, contact the companies where you know fraud happened, and start with their fraud departments, they all have them and they are trained to help.
- At minimum, freeze those accounts or to be even more cautious, close them and re-open the accounts with new numbers.
- Be sure to change Personal Identification Numbers (PIN), passwords, and logins.
- Contact all three credit reporting services and place a fraud alert on your credit file. All three will place a free hold for 90 days. When you request a fraud alert, they are supposed to notify the other two, but I would not risk it. .
- Experian.com/fraudalert 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion.com/fraud 1-800-680-7289
- Equifax.com/CreditReportAssistance 1-888-766-0008
Get a copy of all three credit reports and take a hard look at them to see if there is anything you don't recognize. You can get all three free here: annualcreditreport.com.
Report the Theft
- First, report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission using the FTC's updated filing platform here: ReportFraud.ftc.gov,. or you can do it by phone: 1-877-438-4338. They will start an identity theft file on you.
- Next, call the non-emergency number of your local police department, and ask them what info they need to file a police report.
Start to Repair the Damage
All of this may seem overwhelming, but be methodical and attack these items one at a time. When you speak to anyone about your identity theft, write down his or her name, phone number or email address, the date and time. You may need this info later. Also do the following:
- Close all accounts not opened by you. Request a letter stating that you are not liable for any charges or cost, and ask the business to report the information to all three credit reporting agencies. Keep these letters or emails in a safe, fireproof place.
- Get your credit reports corrected. Send all three reporting services a certified letter, return receipt requested. Here is a sample letter you can use: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Sample-Letters/identity-theft-credit-bureau
Here are the addresses of all three:
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
Additional Things You Can Do
Debt Collectors: If you are contacted by a debt collector, explain your identity was stolen, and be firm about the fact that you do not owe the debt. Contact the company the debt collector is representing and explain the same thing. Send a letter to the debt collection agency, here is a sample: https://www.identitytheft.gov/Sample-Letters/identity-theft-debt-collector
Contact SSN: If you lost your wallet or purse and need replacement government-issued documents, contact the Social Security Administration for a new social security card, the DMV for a lost driver's license, and the State Department for a lost passport. If your child's identity was stolen, use the same methods as above for him or her.
Watch Your Mail: Mail theft is a common source for identity thieves. Don't let your mail stack up, remove it daily and if you are going to be away from home, get a neighbor to gather it for you or put a stop on it with the U.S. Postal Service.
One thing I personally use and love is called Informed Delivery and it is a free service of the Postal Service. All mail is scanned for delivery, so every morning, I get an email with a picture of each piece of mail coming that day. It won't give you things like bulk mail or circulars, but you know in advance what is coming to you, and if something is missing, you can report it. Here's the link to sign up: https://informeddelivery.usps.com/box/pages/intro/start.action
Many people think they won't be a victim of identity theft, but the fact is millions of people have their identity stolen each year. Should you find out you are a victim, quickly do the things I outlined above to lessen the damage done.