Are You a Victim of Identity Theft?
It’s an unfortunate truth that identity theft has become a significant matter to be dealt with in the United States. This type of theft can leave its victims with months, even years worth of awful financial burdens and issues, including legal battles and court cases, as well as a potential deficit for someone’s financial status and future.
Identity theft usually happens when your vital information has been hacked or pirated by a criminal. These individuals will most often target the following personal information:
- Your full name and date of birth
- Your Social Insurance Number (SIN)
- Your driver’s license information
- Your credit card or banking information
- Your home address
An identity thief can take advantage of this information and use it to hack into your savings, chequing, and credit accounts. They can also do damage to your finances in many other ways, by applying for credit and taking out loans using your identity, and in doing so, pile a hazardous amount of financial debt on your shoulders.
Finding Out if Your Identity Has Been Stolen
One thing to know: fraud and identity theft can be seen in your finances in a number of places and ways. Therefore, everyone’s exposure to identity theft is most likely going to be varied. If you’re worried that your information has been stolen, there are a number of things that you should be looking out for, such as:
- If your previous creditor or a new creditor informs you that they’ve received an application under your name, containing your personal information.
- If a bank or credit card company informs you that you’ve either been approved or declined for a credit or loan product you did not apply for.
- If your important banking or credit statements, usually received by mail, having been failing to arrive at your address.
- If unusual purchases, or transactions you have no record of, start to appear on your credit card or bank statements
- If a debt collector gets in contact with you and informs you about a debt that you have no record of.
Identity theft can happen when you least expect it and can impact your finances significantly for weeks, if not months before you even notice. By then, it will be too late. For this reason, alone, it’s extremely important to keep a watchful eye on your finances. However, it’s definitely easier to change certain parts of your financial situation and practices, than it is to resolve the negative effects of having your identity stolen.
Things You Can Do To Avoid Identity Theft
- Under certain circumstances, keeping your Social Insurance Card, passport, or birth certificate on your person can be necessary. However, losing or misplacing any of these items could put you at serious risk of identity theft.
- Make sure you inform your bank and any creditors or lenders if you have a change of address, as some mail they send will have important personal information printed within. This can facilitate in your identity being stolen.
- Inform your bank and creditors immediately when you’ve lost or misplaced your credit or debit card.
- Do not give your family members or friends access to your bank or credit account information, unless you trust them completely.
- If you’re withdrawing money from an ATM, make sure to keep the receipt, or select ‘no’ when the machine asks if you would like a receipt.
- Never leave your wallet or purse unsupervised in a public area.
- If you ever close your chequing account, always properly dispose of any paperwork and or cheques that you no longer have use for.
- When you receive both your credit card and bank statements, always review all information and transactions closely, making certain that there are no suspicious charges.
- Be certain that you can manage and keep track of all your active credit accounts. If not, reduce the number of accounts you have, keeping only the ones that are necessary.
- If a bank or a credit card company contacts you over the phone, do not give them your personal information, particularly your Social Insurance Number. Giving this type of information is especially unsafe over the phone unless you can verify without a doubt who you are speaking with (for example, if you initiate the call).
- Avoid using your SIN as identifying information for a bank or credit account.
- Make certain that you’re properly checking your utility bills, any other subscription bills to verify that they are indeed yours.
- Make sure to memorize your PINs (Personal Identification Numbers). If you’re having trouble remembering them, choose numbers that are easy to memorize.
- Whenever you’re entering your PIN, check to make sure that no one is around, watching you type it in or looking over your shoulder.
- Do not share your PINs or write them down for anyone.
- Never select numbers that have personal significance. For example, never use your date of birth, as this type of information very easy to acquire.
- Before you dispose of any paperwork associated with your bank, credit, or utility accounts, always tear it up or shred it properly.
- If you’ve received a credit application by mail, and you’re sure that you did not request it, never fill it out or submit, especially if it requires that you fill in your Social Insurance Number. This is a potentially serious risk to your identity.
- At least once per year, request a copy of your credit report. Monitoring your credit report will help you spot any unauthorized credit accounts that have been activated using your name.
What You Should Do if You Fall Victim to Identity Theft
If you think that your identity has been stolen, there are steps you can take to see that the situation is resolved as soon as possible.
- Contact every bank you have accounts active with as well as all of your credit card providers. Inform them of your current fraud situation, then get them to cancel all your credit and debit cards.
- File a report with your local police department.
- Request a copy of your credit report from the three credit reporting bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Ask them about getting a fraud alert placed on your file.
- Contact the USPS (United States Postal Service) if you think the fraud was committed through your mail.
- Determine which organizations may have supplied the identity thief with your personal information.Once you have done this, make sure to:
- Get in contact with them right away, and get them to investigate this issue.
- Have them inform you of everything that you can do to aid in the process of finding and stopping the thief.
- See if they have a police report number that they usually turn to during their investigations. Once you have this number, make sure to keep it in your records.
- Make sure that you don’t forget to ask them about any financial losses that have occurred on your file.
Unfortunately, identity theft can come in many different ways, from advanced viruses in your computer that are difficult to detect, to the most straightforward ploys and tactics. Remember that the criminals who hack your identity and steal personal information can do so and prosper at your expense all within a short time-frame. For these reasons, it’s extremely important, to get informed and prepare yourself with the knowledge you need in order to protect yourself.
If you are in debt because of identity theft, take a look at this other article about Debt Solutions.