Knowing what to do if your identity is stolen is an extremely important lesson to learn as an adult. In today’s digitally driven world, it seems like you hear news of a big data breach, where the personal information of thousands – or even millions – of innocent people is leaked across the World Wide Web. That’s why these breaches have the potential to leave masses of people susceptible to identity theft.
One of the largest breaches recently was the Equifax breach that was estimated to have affected over 143 million people. That's almost half the population of the United States! Now that you know that these types of data breaches are bound to occur in the dark corners of the Internet, here are some key steps to take if you’re ever impacted by potential credit fraud or identity theft.
Check immediately to confirm that your identity has been stolen.
If you are worried about any instance of identity theft, check your credit immediately. You want to make sure everything on your credit report is as expected. You are entitled to a free report from all three credit bureaus each year. Many banks are also now offering this service for free with your accounts whenever you request the information. However you choose to approach it, you need to make sure nothing strange is going on. If anything is amiss, you’ll want to take the following steps.
Alert the credit bureaus immediately.
Next, it’s important to alert the credit bureaus and report the situation at hand. This way, they can issue a fraud alert or freeze your credit reports to prevent any additional damage from being done. A credit freeze, also known as a security freeze, allows you to restrict access to your credit report. Lenders will not be able to access your credit to approve any unauthorized lines of credit until you remove the freeze, which will prevent further fraud from occurring.
Contact your creditors and service providers.
You'll also want to contact your creditors or service providers to report the situation. Now, you can begin the official dispute process for any fraudulent claims made in your name. If you decide to file any report(s) with the police bureau in your area or the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), you can provide creditors with this paperwork to help them further validate your claim. While you’re in this part of the process, make sure to contact utility service providers to cover all of your bases.
Change online passwords associated with your financial information.
While you’re taking precautionary measures, it’s also a good idea to change any passwords or pins that might be associated with your financial information as soon as possible. It might be hard to determine exactly what information was breached, so it's better to change any and all passwords. Moving forward, be sure to change these passwords frequently to avoid any future breaches down the road by simply keeping them calendared in your smartphone every few months or so.
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