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Have You Been The Victim Of Identity Theft? Here’s How To Tell — And What To Do

Identity thieves steal your personal information — your name, Social Security number, birthday or other information — and use it without permission to open accounts, make purchases or take out loans. Falling victim to identity theft can be a real nightmare — it can ruin your reputation, wreck your finances and destroy your credit, making it hard or impossible to do things like buy a car or house, get a loan or even open up utilities in your name or buy a cell phone plan.

When you go to school online to pursue a Master of Science in Information Security, you’ll learn how important it is to protect your personal information. You’ll become an expert who helps people and institutions protect themselves from identity theft, among other things. But what happens if the theft has already occurred? How do you even know you’ve been robbed? And what can you do to stop the thieves?

You May Be A Victim Of Identity Theft If…

If you worry that someone might steal your identity, you’re right to be concerned. More than 11.5 million people fall victim to identity theft each year, losing an average of $4,930 a piece. Most cases of identity theft involve the unauthorized use of an existing credit card or account, although it’s not uncommon for thieves to use someone’s personal information to open a new account with which to make unauthorized purchases.

Many people don’t realize that they’ve been the victim of identity theft until they start getting calls from banks, businesses or collection agents trying to reach them about suspicious charges or unpaid bills. The sooner you realize you may have been the victim of identity theft, the more you can do to stop thieves in their tracks and the fewer consequences you’ll suffer. Stay alert for any of these signs that your identity may have been compromised:

Have You Been The Victim Of Identity Theft? Here’s How To Tell — And What To Do

  • A drop in your credit score.Keep an eye on your credit score; unexpected drops in your score could be the work of a thief racking up unpaid bills in your name.
  • Changes to account balances. If your credit card balance skyrockets for no reason, or you’ve noticed an unauthorized withdrawal from your bank account, it could be the work of an identity thief. If a credit card is declined even though you know it shouldn’t be maxed out yet, find out what’s going on. Don’t just assume there’s been a glitch or a mistake.
  • Suspicious credit activity. Under federal law, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus each year. Stagger your three free credit reports at four-month intervals throughout the year so you can watch for unauthorized inquiries, new accounts you didn’t open yourself, collection items, changes in your personal information, or other suspicious activity.
  • Collection calls or unpaid bill notices. If you start receiving notices of unpaid bills or calls from collection agents for no reason, it’s probably because your personal information has been used without your permission.

If Your Identity Is Stolen, Take Immediate Action

If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you need to take action right away. Don’t hesitate for even a day; the longer you wait to take measures, the more of your money the thieves will steal. If you’re not sure whether the suspicious activity you’ve noticed is a sign of identity theft, take action anyway. Waiting to be sure will only give the thieves more time to victimize you.

First, place a fraud alert on your credit report by calling one of the three major credit reporting agencies, Experian, Transunion or Equifax. Tell them you think you’ve been the victim of identity theft. Whichever agency you contact will contact the other two on your behalf. You may want to place a freeze on your credit.

Next, contact your banks, creditors, insurance companies and others with whom you legitimately do business to let them know the situation. You may need to close some accounts and open new ones, with new passwords and PINs.

Call the police and file a report. The credit reporting agencies and any creditors affected by the fraud may request a copy of this report. You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Attach a copy of your police report.

As a victim of identity theft, you’re entitled to an additional free credit report. Request it about a month after you’ve reported the theft since it can take time for fraudulent charges to appear. Use what you learn from your credit report to work with creditors and others to remove fraudulent charges.

Identity theft is a legitimate threat, but it doesn’t need to ruin your life. If you take prompt action and notify the proper authorities, you can get fraudulent charges removed from your accounts and credit report and move on with your life.

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