Our current level of technological development allows online users to get jobs on a different continent or communicate naturally with people miles away. We have instant access to information and easy access to technology but we’re also more exposed to risks than ever.
While being online browsing and using social media is something millions of people do every day, very few of them are aware of the many Identity Theft scams that run online (among others). According to the 2021 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research, Americans lost around $56 Bn to ID fraud in 2020.
ID theft online is a sneaky thing because the victim doesn’t take notice until it’s too late to do anything to stop the damage. When they learn something is wrong, all they can do is try to mitigate the disaster. So, if you’ve faced ID theft and you’ve become a victim or believe you may be one in the future, here are the four main steps to take:
1. Get Extra Protection
Start by checking all your accounts (banking, email, social media, and others). Change the current passwords and implement two-factor authentication on the ones that allow it. Also, check with your bank and let them know you think someone stole your ID.
Next, add an identity theft service that protects your digital and financial identity by setting up watchlists and services that monitor your most important accounts.
2. Put a Fraud Alert on your Credit Report
One of the biggest inconveniences of ID fraud is a damaged credit score. This can have long-lasting effects that continue even after you’ve dealt with most of the aftermath of being an ID theft victim.
Plus, a fraud alert on your credit report lets anyone checking it know something is wrong. So, in case someone uses your data to get online loans, apply for a job, or get a credit card, the fraud alert will warn them to stop the action and alert you (the owner).
To put a fraud alert, you only have to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies in the country. Since they share a database, once a fraud alert is placed by one of the agencies, it will notify the other two as well. A fraud alert is free and it lasts for one year (it can be prolonged) – it’s an easy-to-use protection method in case of emergency.
3. Check your Credit Card Reports & Your Accounts
Once you place a fraud alert, you’ll receive a free credit card report from each agency. Use these to look for evidence of fraud such as new accounts you didn’t apply for, employers you’ve never heard of, payments you’ve never made, and anything out of the ordinary.
Also, make sure to regularly check your accounts for vanishing amounts or transactions you haven’t authorized.
4. Talk to the Authorities
While there’s not much they can do until you are sure your identity has been compromised, they will provide guidance on the steps to take until then. You can also familiarize yourself with the process, in case fraud is confirmed (so you’ll be able to act fast).
In the US, you’ll have to report the event to the FTC and the police (in that order). Make sure you know what data to include in these reports so all your accounts are covered. Once this step is complete, you will have to start the long journey of contacting each agency, company, organization, and more that provide you a service or might be convinced to open new accounts or provide services in your name.
ID theft is a lucrative line of business and even though there are many new technologies that could make a difference in the near future (like blockchain), for now, it’s best to practice caution when navigating online.