Realising that you’ve been a victim of identity theft (opens in new tab) can be depressing, but it’s also the point where you’ve got to take steps immediately. In order to stop the situation getting worse you’ll want to evaluate exactly what’s been happening and decide on a route forwards in order to prevent anything else happening to your ID.
Once they’ve got your personal information criminals can often work quickly in order to carry out crimes. Often this goes unnoticed initially, which allows the fraudsters to do even more damage to your personal identity (opens in new tab) information. On top of that, criminals can often use specific personal information, such as your Social Security number, so stake a claim for your tax refund (opens in new tab).
Hopefully the IRS will be able to alert you to this, although it's often possible to spot an occurrence of tax-related ID theft (opens in new tab) when you try and submit your tax return (opens in new tab). If it gets rejected, this may be a key identifier that criminals have got hold of your Social Security number, along with other personal details, and used them to claim your annual tax refund.
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Spotting that you’ve been a victim of identity theft (opens in new tab) is really just the beginning of the process and you’ll need to take several steps in order to try and minimise the damage it can do. Identity theft can have seriously detrimental knock-on effects as it can make a mess of your personal records and harm your profile in relation to the likes of employment, health and credit history (opens in new tab) too.
One of the first things to try and establish is what kind of identity theft has occurred as criminals can target many different aspects of your day-to-day life. Fraud covers a wide spectrum of things that directly impact your activities, including taxation (opens in new tab), banking (opens in new tab) and credit along with employment and benefits. ID theft can even cause complications with things like your medical and criminal records.
If you’ve managed to get an overview of what has been happening the next step is one that’s well worth considering. Many people who’ve become victims of identity theft subsequently place a fraud alert (opens in new tab) with one of the three national credit reporting agencies. All you need to do is contact one of the big three bureaus, which includes Equifax (opens in new tab), Experian (opens in new tab) and TransUnion (opens in new tab).
The bonus about doing this is that you actually only need to contact one of these agencies and they are then duty bound to inform the others. Another added benefit of going down the route of a fraud alert is that it lets you obtain a free credit report (opens in new tab), and this can be done for each one, so that you can get a bang up to date overview of your credit situation.
You’ll also want to pick through your financial accounts (opens in new tab) in order to try and spot any potentially fraudulent activity. You might be using accounting software (opens in new tab), which is often the quickest way to highlight any anomalies. However, if you’re the type of person who prefers to have everything on paper in front of you then it’s a good time to pick through it all and track down anything untoward.
If you discover that any accounts have been opened without your permission then you’ll obviously want to contact the financial institution involved in order to explain the situation. You might want to do the same for any of your genuine accounts which could have been used for fraudulent reasons following criminals getting hold of your personal details.
Now that so much of our lives is online it's a good idea to take stock of your computing and cell phone (opens in new tab) habits too. Many identity theft breaches occur when people give away their details online, often by mistake when replying to things like phishing emails (opens in new tab). Many online scams (opens in new tab) can be very convincing, and this is still a common way of being duped by criminals.
Remember that large organisations like the IRS will not send you emails or make unsolicited calls asking for personal details, including your Social Security number. If you get contacted like this then disregard it. At the same time it might be a good idea to invest in one of the best internet security suites (opens in new tab), or at least get your equipment given the once over with an anti-virus scan (opens in new tab) to filter out any potential threats from cybercriminals.
If identity theft has occurred you will most likely be required to complete and submit the Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Affidavit. The government offers good advice in this area via its specialist website (opens in new tab) and this is a good point of call in order to explore your next steps in the wake of ID theft (opens in new tab). You’ll also want to file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission or FTC, which has the forms you need (opens in new tab) plus helpful information on how to move things forward.
Other steps to consider when it comes to taking action if you’re a victim of ID theft is to file a police report, which does at least show you have placed the event on record. On top of that, keep close tabs of anything that you do in relation to the identity theft. This should be in the form of a log that catalogs everyone you’ve spoken to along with dates, times, any postal correspondence sent or received and so on.
Ultimately, it’s a headache to sort out identity theft (opens in new tab) and there are several hurdles to get over before you can set the record straight. However, it's vital that you take steps immediately, and don't make a point of ignoring any alarm bells you might spot along the way. The longer you leave reporting the matter the more damage criminals can do, not only to your credit report (opens in new tab), tax and other financial matters but it can also be hugely detrimental to your personal reputation.
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