Victim of Identity Theft? Here’s What You Need to Do NOW

( – Finding out that you may be a victim of identity theft can be panic-inducing. Every day, millions of Americans find themselves in a similar situation — perhaps someone tried using their identity to get a mortgage, credit card, or auto loan, and they don’t find out until it shows up on their credit report. From 2019 to 2020, there was a 113 percent increase in identity theft, and it’s only increasing from there, says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

This type of crime has caused over $33 billion in losses. Everyone except the scammer loses: the business that got scammed and the person whose identity was stolen. For people from low-income or fixed-income households, this can be particularly damaging.

There are steps you can take to prevent identity theft from happening to you, and actions you should take immediately upon finding out that you are the victim of identity theft. There is help, and there is a process and procedure to follow.

What Constitutes Identity Theft?

Every American has an identity in various systems: medical accounts, credit cards, social security numbers, names, addresses, and much more. When criminals acquire this info (which is easier to do than ever thanks to the internet), they can steal money and objects by opening up new credit card accounts in their victims’ names! From there, they use the credit card to buy whatever they want — and you’re left on the hook for paying the bill. If they really wanted, an identity thief could even use your identity to get married!

Protecting Yourself From Identity Theft

Identity theft is increasingly common, but you can take certain measures to protect yourself by preventing it from ever happening. For starters, all physical and digital bits of personal information should be securely stowed. Consider getting a safe to hold things like your Medicare card, social security card, birth certificate, bank account info, credit card information (and cards you don’t frequently use), or online or offline information connected to your bank account such as PayPal records.

When you receive snail mail, be cognizant of the fact that identity thieves can use your name and address for malicious purposes. Shred things you don’t need, such as credit card statements you’ve already paid.

Protect Your Social Security Number

As you know from setting up a bank account or applying for a loan, most organizations require your social security number to take any major financial action, such as opening an account in your name. This includes legitimate credit card companies (banks, as they issue the cards). You can give out your Social Security Number to your bank, the IRS, and your employer — they need it for tax purposes and federal regulations, but no legitimate agency should ask for your full SSN if they are the ones contacting you.

If you get communication requesting your SSN, it could be a scam. Criminals have gotten very clever about this, and might send you a text message or email making it look like you’re late on a bill, and you should log into an account using your SSN to verify and pay it. This is a scam. Debt collectors might ask for your SSN too, which is tricky as they can be legitimate, but you should try to avoid giving it out.

What to Do If Your Identity Was Stolen

If you suspect or confirm that you’re a victim of identity theft, know you’re not alone. Even the best precautions do not work 100 percent of the time. Head to immediately to report it, then make a list of places you need to call. Your bank should be first on the list, as well as any banks issuing credit cards to you (they will want to cancel your cards and reissue new ones). The faster you act, the less damage they can do.

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