Identity theft is a serious issue and chances are, it’ll happen to you at least once in your lifetime. In fact, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that 17.6 Americans — or approximately 7% of the population — were victims of identity theft in a single year.
When you find out that someone has stolen your credit card or used your name to take out a loan, you probably know to contact your card company or the lender to dispute the charges. However, just changing your card numbers isn’t enough to protect you. Thieves are increasingly sophisticated and without taking additional steps, they can continue to abuse your information.
6 steps you should take to protect yourself
Below are six things you should do to protect yourself that are often overlooked.
1. Submit a police report
Identity theft is a serious crime, yet just one in ten victims actually submit a police report. You might feel like it’s a waste of time because the chances of catching the thief is low, but not filing a report is a big mistake.
If the thief used your information to take out loans in your name, signed up for insurance, or even signed a lease, the only way to prove they aren’t you is to submit a copy of a police report that shows identity theft occurred. Having the police report and case number handy will help you dispute any fraudulent accounts.
Many police departments allow you to submit a report online; it can take as little as 10 minutes to complete.
2. Contact the Internal Revenue Service
As soon as you realize your information has been compromised, contact the IRS. Criminals can use your information to submit a fraudulent tax return and even claim a refund. You could lose money and, because the return they file is likely incorrect, the IRS could come after you for an incorrect return or owed taxes.
To contact the IRS, call 1-800-908-4490.
3. Notify your mortgage lender
You might not think you have to worry about your mortgage, but there have been cases where thieves have used stolen information to transfer ownership of a home to themselves or to even refinance the mortgage.
Contact your mortgage lender to let them know your information has been compromised. If any changes to your account are requested — such as a title transfer or refinancing application — the lender will know to ask for additional forms of identification.
4. File complaint with Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
Submit a complaint to the FTC if you’re the victim of the identity theft. The FTC tracks and investigates incidents, and will also help you come up with a recovery plan that is tailored to your situation.
You can submit a complaint online on the FTC website.
5. Report a misused Social Security number
If someone managed to get a hold of your Social Security number and is using it, and you can’t seem to stop them by changing your account numbers and other measures, contact the Social Security Administration.
In some cases, you might need to apply for an entirely new Social Security number. To do so, you’ll need to prove your identity, age, and U.S. citizenship or immigration status. You also need to provide evidence that you’re continuing to experience problems with identity theft.
To contact the Social Security Administration, call 1-800-772-1213.
6. Place a credit freeze on your report
Many people put fraud alerts on their credit reports after experiencing identity theft. A fraud alert prompts a creditor to take additional steps to verify your identity. However, thieves are becoming increasingly skilled, and can often produce enough information to get through a fraud alert.
For added protection, consider setting up a credit freeze on your report with each of the three credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. By doing so, a hold is set on your account, and no one can open any new lines of credit until the freeze is lifted. It can take several days to lift a credit freeze, but it’s an important safeguard when dealing with identity theft.
Recovering from identity theft
Being the victim of identity theft can be a scary and violating experience. Unfortunately, you can continue to feel the effects for months or even years after your information is stolen. However, by taking action right away and notifying the authorities and setting up a credit freeze, you can prevent thieves from continuing to misuse your information.
Editorial Disclaimer: Information in these articles is brought to you by CreditSoup. Banks, issuers, and credit card companies mentioned in the articles do not endorse or guarantee, and are not responsible for, the contents of the articles. The information is accurate to the best of our knowledge when posted; however, all credit card information is presented without warranty. Please check the issuer’s website for the most current information.