Identity theft and fraud cases have increased over the past decade. Last year, the FTC reported that more than 1.1M people were victims of ID theft, since thieves are getting more sophisticated. Fortunately, there are ways you can protect yourself against risks that can lead to identity theft, as well as tools to restore your identity and finances if you ever become a victim of ID theft.
Identity theft can happen to you even if you're careful.
While you can’t completely eliminate the threat of identity theft, you can build a first line of defense to protect yourself from risks. That line begins with a strong data protection program that includes theft insurance.
Also, keep these tips in mind:
- Make sure your credit card and social security numbers, ATM PIN, and other personal financial information remain personal and secure.
- Regularly monitor your credit reports, bank accounts, and credit accounts for irregularities.
- Stay vigilant. Always ask questions before you share your information.
Security programs and good safety practices reduce the likelihood of theft and help lessen the impact if your identity is stolen.
Fair credit reporting act: what to do about identity theft.
Identity theft is on the rise. But there are protections in place that reduce your risk. In particular, the Fair Credit Reporting Act, or FCRA, requires companies to comply with information requests from consumers who suspect they’ve been targeted. So, if you think you’re an identity theft victim, you can access your personal data to better understand whether theft or fraud has occurred.
What to do if your identity is stolen.
Identity theft doesn’t always lead to serious financial trouble. By taking the right steps, you can help ensure that it doesn’t.
The minute you notice suspicious activity on an account, take action by following identity theft best practices.
File a claim with your identity theft insurance.
If you have identity theft protection, like Lookout, that includes restoration services and an insurance policy, you should file a claim with your insurer immediately after a suspected theft. You will be assigned a personal certified specialist, who will work on your behalf to restore your identity if it is stolen.
You can rely on your certified specialist to file dispute letters to creditors, work with credit bureaus to repair your credit score and provide documents for government agencies. Identity Protection can also reimburse you for legal costs, lawyer fees, and lost fraudulent withdrawals that may result from identity theft. If you haven't purchased an identity theft protection plan, you may be covered through your workplace. In that case, file a claim through your employer.
Notify companies of your stolen identity.
As with any crime, it is important to take immediate action. Report identity theft right away. Start with the account that’s been compromised. For instance, if your wireless phone account has been compromised, contact your provider. Your provider can help you secure your account and prevent additional fraud.
Change your passwords.
Researchers say 721.5 million passwords were exposed online in 2022. That’s why protecting your passwords is so important, especially if you have linked accounts on different platforms protected by the same password and/or identical security information for different profiles and companies.
If that’s the case, one data breach can negatively impact your other accounts. For example, if hackers steal your email password, they can search your email messages for information on other accounts you’ve opened, then use the same login credentials to access those accounts.
To help protect against further risks, once you know you’re the victim of identity theft, immediately change your passwords and update your security. Start with the account that’s been compromised or with the most relevant company for the type of data that was stolen. This can take a lot of time. But it’s a strong defense against additional thefts. Make sure your password changes cover all sites and accounts hackers want to access, including:
- Credit cards
- Social media
- Mobile pay apps
Find out how you can benefit from Lookout’s extensive device security and identity monitoring services.
File a Report with the Federal Trade Commission.
The Federal Trade Commission doesn't investigate identity theft. However, it does monitor data breaches. Once you've filed an identity theft report, the FTC will send you information on how to recover your accounts along with the necessary paperwork to straighten out any issues that result from the breach.
Contact your local police department.
While identity theft isn’t a physical crime, it is a crime. Call the non-emergency line of your local police department to file a report. Your local police may not have the resources to catch the thief, but an official police report makes it easier to prove a crime has occurred. That proof is important when you're attempting to secure accounts and receive payment for what you've lost.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
Credit report fraud alerts are a free service offered by the three major credit bureaus. These alerts can be critical to securing your credit following identity theft. They also prevent additional fraudulent accounts from being opened in your name. If a credit card company or lending institution checks your credit and sees the fraud alert, they'll take steps to make sure any new accounts in your name are legitimate.
Freeze your credit.
To maximize security after identity theft, you can freeze your credit at all three major credit bureaus. That way, your credit report can’t be shared with anyone and no one –– not even you — can open new accounts in your name.
This is a significant step to protect your finances. It prevents anyone from accessing or opening up new lines of credit associated with your identity. If you’re not planning on opening any new accounts or having your credit checked anytime soon, a credit freeze may be a good course of action to help thwart identity theft risks. Whenever you’re ready to lift the freeze, you can make the request with the credit reporting agencies.
Review your credit reports for mystery accounts.
Of the volunteers in a Consumer Reports study, more than one-third had a mistake on their credit reports.
That’s why, in addition to locking down your credit, you should review your credit report. Look for charges you don’t recognize. Report suspicious activity to the credit bureau and contact the affected companies to dispute any transactions you didn’t make.
Sign up for a credit monitoring service.
It’s always good to monitor your credit score and credit report, even if you aren't an identity theft victim. Check with your data security program, financial institutions, or credit card companies to see if they provide monitoring services. Many offer them for free and will send you regular alerts if anything changes on your score or report. A note of caution: There are, believe it or not, fraudulent free credit report companies. As with any cybercriminals, they’re on a mission to steal your data. As always, be sure to do your research and ensure you are working with a trusted company before sharing any of your sensitive information.
Tighten security on your accounts.
Often, consumers set up accounts online by simply entering email addresses and choosing passwords. But there are usually additional security checks available. So, take a minute. Check security options for every account linked to your sensitive personal data. If you don't already have two-factor, or multi-factor authentication turned on, it’s a good idea to enable this added layer of protection. Whatever the type of online account, the provider usually offers advanced security and privacy protections that can be toggled on and off. To ensure your data is safe, choose the highest level of security available. And toggle it on.
Scan credit card and bank statements for unauthorized charges.
Make a habit of reviewing all of your financial statements. Choose a time each week or each month to check your account statements for fraudulent charges or suspicious activity. Your bank's fraud department likely has a simple reporting system that will allow you to block fraudulent transactions, if they’re occurring. And you can contact the affected companies to alert them to the fraud.
Contact your restoration agent.
Lookout’s dedicated identity theft restoration experts are available 24/7 to answer your questions. If you think you’re the victim of identity fraud, contact your restoration agent immediately. Your agent will help secure your data, answer all of your questions, and walk you through the steps to secure your accounts. With up to $1 million in identity theft coverage, Lookout takes the stress and risk away from having your identity stolen.
Utilize security software to protect yourself from future attempts.
You can stay ahead of digital risks and identity theft by investing in a proven protection solution. Lookout’s personal data protection makes it simple to avoid threats. By offering protection across all of your mobile devices, Lookout helps you rest easy as you navigate your life online. Lookout’s device security, privacy and identity protection features work together to keep your sensitive personal and financial data safe and secure.
How do you check if your identity has been stolen?
You can manually monitor your bank statements, credit report, credit score, and more to check for suspicious activity. Companies, like Lookout, will also automatically monitor your personal and financial information for any signs of compromise or theft and will alert you the moment any suspicious activity is tied to one of your accounts.
What are two things you should do if your identity is stolen?
You should report the identity theft to relevant authorities, including the police, credit reporting agencies, and the FTC. You'll also want to lock down your accounts and credit to get ahead of any additional risks. If you have a data security and insurance program such as Lookout, you can simply call your dedicated restoration agent and get immediate assistance with restoring your identity and protecting your finances .
How do I check to see if someone is using my Social Security number?
In addition to monitoring your credit score and bank statements for fraudulent activity, you can alert the IRS if you think your social security number may be compromised. The IRS can check to see if your number has been used by someone other than you. This is especially useful for identity theft cases in which the thief is working under your social security number or stealing your tax return.