ID fraud occurs quickly and almost always without warning. It can take months to recover from normal circumstances, so knowing what is required to expedite the process is essential.
If your identity has been stolen and your financial life is severely impacted, here are five steps to counter the event.
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The long-term effects of identity theft
Identity theft isn't a flash-in-the-pan event you forget after a few months. Instead, its impact can last for months, if not years, and cast a massive shadow across your life.
There is a psychological aspect to ID theft, one that can take its toll and leave you feeling at odds with everything you previously took for granted. Being victimized by criminals in this way can cause feelings of anxiety and violation. Sleep might also be affected - the Identity Theft Resource Center found that sleep disturbance affects 41% of identity theft victims.
Financial security fears, a sense of powerlessness, and suicidal feelings also occur among identity theft victims.
Of course, identity theft also impacts victims financially. You will almost certainly find yourself short of money for a time. Borrowing from family and friends, selling possessions to cover ID theft expenses, and even taking payday loans rarely make you feel better. On the contrary, the added stress of borrowing can cause further psychological stress.
This can translate into physical illness, too. Victims of identity theft have reported everything from breathing difficulties, elevated blood pressure, and heart palpitations to fatigue, muscle aches, and even grief (of a loss of financial security, trust, and aspirations).
A timeline of identity theft recovery
Identity theft can rarely be recovered quickly. It largely depends on the type of theft you have experienced.
- Credit card fraud: the time it takes you to discover and report the scam is as long as you must wait in most cases. If you regularly check your credit card statements or have alerts on your account, this should be no more than a month. After that, credit card companies will cover the stolen credit.
- Total identity theft: with accounts opened in your name, it can take months to recover. It takes time to dispute fraudulent bank accounts, loans, and other identity theft. Proof is required that you did not set up the accounts. When a tax debt is also incurred, as in some cases, or other crimes are committed in your name, undoing the damage can take years.
Unless you're incredibly fortunate and detect identity fraud early, you're likely to spend at least a year piecing together the effects of identity theft.
How to recover from identity theft
So, how can you recover from identity theft and minimize the psychological impact?
1. Contact the fraud departments of the affected accounts
Once fraud is discovered and it is clear your identity was stolen, you must report the fraud. Speak to the fraud departments at the banks and credit card companies affected. If the scam was car finance or some other type of finance, speak to them too.
You should also record the theft with your local police force. All these things should be done within a day of discovering the fraud.
2. Check your statements and records
You need to know everything about your financial activity for the duration (and some time before) the fraud. This means checking your statements and financial records in depth. Request statements that haven't been sent to you, too.
Try to cover everything, from banks, loan companies, and credit cards to online stores, PayPal accounts, and everything.
3. Detail your movements during the period of fraud
When it becomes apparent when the fraud took place, you must take steps to record your activities to prove that you weren't spending the money. While fraud is common, it is sadly still important that victims prove their innocence.
Use Google Maps to trace your activities. For example, find old receipts to prove where you were, perhaps your employer's clock-in data to show you were at work when a loan was taken out in a bank branch.
4. Get legal advice from a specialist in identity theft
Contacting a lawyer with as much supporting data as possible is wise. Legal advice is essential at this stage, as your bank will be interested in you as part of its fraud investigation.
However, don't just call the usual family lawyer. Instead, find someone who is versed in the issues of identity theft and subsequent fraud. They will be able to deal with your bank and any federal contact, helping reduce personal stress.
5. Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC)
Free help is available from the ITRC (opens in new tab), which can tell you almost everything you need to know about identity theft. They offer a help service and detailed steps about what you can do in the event of ID fraud. In addition, you'll find information about various scams, which can help you to identify exactly what happened to cause your ID to be stolen.
Meanwhile, the site also hosts various resources, facts, figures, and a regular newsletter.
Are you affected by ID theft in the UK? Contact the Action Fraud team (opens in new tab).
Prevent future identity theft
You've overcome ID theft. You probably don't want to go through it all again. To prevent a repeat of the months-long recovery of your identity, financials, and perhaps even your sanity and health, take steps to secure your accounts.
Stop clicking on links in unsolicited emails from your bank, loan company, PayPal, Facebook, whatever. Instead, learn to spot fake emails, change your passwords, employ tighter security steps (two-factor authentication, where a code is sent to your phone or email when you try to log into a bank account online, for example), and remain vigilant of the risks. Know and understand how it happened the first time to reduce the chances of a repeat occurrence.
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