You or someone you know may have already been the victim of identity theft. But that’s not the only scary part. What’s also scary is you may not even know when — or how — it happened. Was it last week’s online shopping spree? Or that one time you worked from your local coffee shop using shared WiFi two years ago?
There are many uncertainties (and even more headaches) when it comes to suspected identity theft. Here we hope to clear up those concerns so you’re informed of the possibilities — and empowered to take action.
Identity theft is when a cybercriminal steals your personal and/or financial information. This could be personal information like your birthdate, Social Security number, or email address and phone number. Or — and even more dangerous — when your financial information is stolen, giving someone access to your bank account, login information, or credit card numbers.
The resulting headache is time-consuming, costly, and stressful; the average cost of resolving identity fraud was $1,343, and it can take weeks or even months to unravel.
Your personal or financial information can be stolen in several ways. Losing your wallet, not logging out of public computers, or accessing public WiFi without encryption can all leave your valuable information in the wrong hands. Likewise, clicking on dangerous links that run vicious viruses or not being careful enough while browsing the dark web are risky behaviors too.
Your information could also be compromised by large-scale corporate data breaches.
You get medical bills in the mail. Or worse, you’re told you’ve reached your maximum benefit of your medical plan even when you know you didn’t use them up.
You get W-2s for companies for whom you’ve never worked or the IRS notifies you of another tax return filed in your name.
More certainly, you get an email or letter stating your information was compromised in a data breach. You should be offered free restoration in such case; be sure to save all communication regarding the breach.
Your wallet and its contents are lost or stolen. Notify all credit card companies and banks and request new cards (and new card numbers). If your Social Security card was in your lost or stolen wallet, here are some additional steps you can take to protect yourself.
How do you check to see if someone is using your Social Security number?
The FTC recommends following these additional steps if your Social Security number is being used by a cybercriminal:
If your information was exposed by a third-party’s data breach, take advantage of their restoration offer, which should include free credit monitoring for at least a year. Or sign up for an identity protection plan that includes full-service expert restoration assistance. Alert the FTC immediately if you see any transactions or accounts you don’t recognize.
You can freeze your credit to block any new accounts or lines of credit. Or you can place a fraud alert on your account to make it more difficult for anyone trying to use your stolen identity for financial gain.
File your taxes early. This way, the right tax return is processed and cybercriminals with your Social Security number won’t be able to fraudulently file.
Check your credit report regularly to watch out for any new activity.
Safe browsing, friends! The internet should make life easier, more fun, and more productive. But identity theft is very real. Use caution and know what to look out for to protect your identity and personal information.