What to Do If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
Fraud and identity theft are at an all-time high, thanks to the pandemic. Fraud linked to the COVID pandemic has cost Americans $382 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission. As of March 2021, more than 217,000 people had filed a coronavirus-related fraud report with the agency since January 2020, according to federal data.
Criminals continue to prey upon vulnerable employees stuck at home, many of whom use unsecured devices and apps and can’t rely on an IT department for help. When they receive a legitimate-sounding offer for help getting another stimulus check or government relief, unsuspecting users might unknowingly hand over their credentials to cybercriminals. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau fielded 542,300 complaints in 2020, a 54% increase over 2019.
What should you do if you find yourself the victim of identity theft? If you believe that you have become a victim of identity theft, there are several steps you can take right away.
1. Call the Companies Where You Know Fraud Has Occurred
Call the fraud department of the bank or credit card company immediately and let them know that your identity has been compromised. Do not email them or use digital channels, such as the website chatbot or the company’s Facebook Page — call and request to be connected to the fraud department immediately.
You can ask them to close or freeze the accounts, or send you a new card with a new number, depending on their policy. They will also most likely prompt you to change your login names, passwords, PIN numbers or other forms of authentication for these accounts.
2. Place a Fraud Alert and Request Copies of Your Credit Reports
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s IdentityTheft.gov website, you are able to place a free, one-year fraud alert on your credit reports by contacting just one of the three credit bureaus — the one bureau you contact must contact the other two.
Fraud alerts make it harder for someone to open new accounts in your name. By having an alert on your report, a lender or any other business must verify your identity before it can issue new credit in your name. Fraud alerts can be renewed after one year.
3. Report Identity Theft to the Federal Trade Commission
Complete the online form with as many details as you possibly can. You can also call 1-877-438-4338.
4. File a Report with Your Local Police Department
While local law enforcement officials cannot help you if you were the victim of identity theft online or overseas, they can help you if you were the victim of identity theft locally. Proof of local identity theft can help with an arrest, or aid in assembling evidence for a case.
Contact your local police department and file a formal police report. Provide your FTC Identity Theft Report, proof of your identity and address and proof of the theft (bills, notices).
5. Strengthen Your Overall IT Security
Though the bank or credit card company may have had you change your login credentials, you should also consider changing the passwords for your devices, apps, and even your WiFi router.
If you don’t have it already, upgrade your security measures by installing two-factor authentication, so that more than just a password is required to enter your accounts. This can be a fingerprint (or other biometric modality), temporary PIN number, or a number generated by a third-party authenticator app that grants you access — in addition to a password.
6. Scan Your Accounts for Unauthorized Activity
Though you already contacted the bank or credit card company where the fraud originally occurred, scan your other accounts to determine if there has been any unusual activity. This can be especially helpful if you use the same username and password across multiple accounts (which, as a habit, is not advisable).
Check for unusual activity even in non-financial accounts, such as online retailers and even mobile food delivery apps in which you have credit or debit card credentials stored. Compromise or misuse can occur in the most unlikely of places.
IdentityTheft.gov – What To Do Right Away
US News – What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen