We hear about it all the time. We are warned about the possibility of having our identities stolen from us, and our name is out there committing crimes, usually of fraud. How do you know if someone has your stolen identity? What should you do and who do you call once your identity has been stolen?
First, it is important to understand why someone might want to steal your identity. Typically, an identity is stolen for financial gain. Credit card access, bank account access, and access to cash loans are all available when the identity stolen has reasonable credit and a myriad of credit cards. With today’s technology, it is possible for an intelligent and crafty identity thief to sit al day behind their computer screen and order a houseful of electronics or other valuable and re-sellable items and have it delivered to a location where they can then discreetly pick it up. These items can then be posted on Ebay or another auction website where they can make 100% profit on the items your identity bought for them. Of course, they can take out loans for cash if your credit is good enough as well as make fraudulent charges. This is all done after they have drained your bank account and placed your money in an account that really is almost untraceable.
Sometimes an identity is stolen for more insidious purposes, such as committing a crime under the guise of being someone else. These crimes can be perfectly traceable, only they will be traced back to a false identity, which is you. It is a very unpleasant feeling when the FBI shows up at your doorstep because they believe you are guilty of a federal offense. Your identity created a shadow for someone else to hide behind.
The third reason for identity theft is for the purposes of hiding out. This isn’t so uncommon for women who are on the run from abusive husbands or nearly grown children hiding from their parents until their 18th birthday, or for avoiding prosecution for a crime. Of course, these individuals pay someone to find them another identity and create a new life for them in a short period of time. They may very well have obtained a passport in your name by the time you are aware of the identity theft and may be long gone by the time the authorities have any way of tracking them down.
Signs of identity theft may be small or overwhelmingly obvious, depending on the reason for the theft. You may simply wake up one morning and find yourself to be broke and completely drained of any and all resources. Or it may begin with a few charges on your bank statement that you don’t remember purchasing, but they are usually small enough that you are not so alarmed as to call the authorities. Eventually these charges are more frequent and more expensive, until finally you figure out that someone out there is using your identity. By the time you have figured it out, the identity thief has either decided to wipe you out or has moved on to a different identity.
If you suspect that someone is out there in the world, and yes it is unfortunately the world and not just the country, pretending to be you the steps you take from there are very important. First, close your bank account. Immediately. Don’t discuss it, don’t think about, run straight to the bank and shut it down. Second, cancel all your credit cards. All of them.
Then you will want to place a fraud alert with all three consumer credit reporting companies. There is usually a toll free number that is in your records dealing with all credit matters, including credit cards that will allow you to speak to someone directly. Explain that you believe you are the victim of identity theft and they will walk you through the process of placing a fraud alert on your credit report. This helps the credit bureaus determine any fraudulent activity. If there are sudden and significant changes on your credit report, this can alert the credit bureaus to fraudulent activities.
Change all online accounts, including e-mail, online bank accounts, and any other accounting information or web based sites that store your personal information. This is a simple process, and any accounts that you may close are typically able to be re-established once the stolen identity issue is addressed.
Contact the government agencies of any and all identification you have, including driver’s licenses, passports, social security cards, and military or school identification. Reporting the suspicion of identity theft can help catch the thief of your identity as well as protect you from any further theft.
The FBI and local authorities have basic protocols set up for identity theft issues. Contact them and follow through on their questions and advice. Even if what they are asking of you is inconvenient or will cause an interruption in the daily happenings of your life, your cooperation is vital in order to help protect you from the damage of your stolen identity.