Protecting Yourself Against Identity Theft — Legal & Practical Concerns
When you notice signs that you may be vulnerable to identity theft, you can take certain precautions to protect yourself from it. Perhaps you have found out that your email account was hacked, or perhaps a company with which you have an account has notified you that a data breach has occurred. The steps that you can take depend on the specific situation and the type of information that may have been exposed to the thief. This discussion covers some of the common instances in which identity theft can occur.
As a prudent consumer, you should keep track of your transaction records so that you notice any suspicious activity. If you believe that your credit card or your debit card is at risk, you can contact your credit company or bank. You should be able to cancel your card and get a new card. Then, you should make sure to provide companies that use automatic payments with your new credit card or debit card number. You can also go to annualcreditreport.com to get an updated credit report.
You can close your bank account and open a new account if you believe that your account may be exposed to identity theft. If you notice withdrawals that you did not make on your record of transactions, you can get them removed through the bank’s fraud department. As with credit cards, you should provide companies that receive automatic payments from your bank account with your new account information. Again, you can get your updated credit report from annualcreditreport.com.
You should change your password and possibly also your username if you are concerned about identity theft in connection with a certain account. Any accounts that use the same password also should be changed. Identity thieves often attack multiple accounts of the same consumer, recognizing that people tend to use the same usernames and passwords. If the site records financial information, such as bank account numbers or credit card numbers, you should check your transaction records for any inappropriate charges.
In the event that you can no longer log into an online account, you should ask the company that runs it to shut it down for you or allow you to log back into it.
Social Security Number or Driver’s License
If your Social Security number has been exposed, you may want to use a credit freeze, which restricts someone’s ability to open a new account in your name. This may make it harder for you to get your next credit card or another service that involves a credit check. If you feel that this is unnecessary, you may want to use a fraud alert instead. The theft of Social Security numbers often results in tax identity theft, which is when the thief tries to get a tax refund by using your information. You should try to file your taxes early and be alert to any letters from the IRS. However, you should not trust phone callers who threaten you with being arrested based on nonpayment of taxes or debt, even if the person claims to be from the IRS.
My Social Security
Someone who suspects that their Social Security number has been stolen should create a personal account through the Social Security Administration to determine whether someone else is fraudulently reporting their earnings under the stolen number. A person who finds errors in their work history should contact their local Social Security office to avoid having their tax refund stolen or being penalized by the IRS for failing to report all income.
If you lose your driver’s license, or if it appears to be stolen, you should contact the local branch of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) or your state’s equivalent. In addition to flagging the license number for possible fraudulent use, the DMV might ask you to apply for a duplicate.
Child identity theft has become more common recently. You should get a credit freeze for your child if you suspect a breach of their personal information. This will make it harder for a thief to open accounts with your child’s information. If your child has a credit report, this should be a red flag because children generally do not have credit reports. You can check the records of all three credit bureaus (Equifax, Esperian, and TransUnion) to find out if your child has a report. If they do, you can get a copy of the report and follow the instructions provided in the report to shut down accounts associated with it.