A Victim of ID Theft – Now What?

According to the most recent federal statistics, more than 17 million people will become a victim of identity theft in the United States each year. Given the potentially cataclysmic effects, identity theft can have on your finances, that’s a profoundly sobering number.

Additionally, an even larger number of people will have their personal data compromised as a result of a security breach. An astounding 43-percent of companies reported a data breach within the last year, according to a 2014 study. The most troubling thing about these numbers is that they keep increasing at a rapid clip, exposing more and more consumers to serious financial risk.

If you’ve been a victim of identity or data theft, here’s what you need to know.

How to React If It Happens to You

The moment you discover a hacker or an identity thief got you is one you won’t soon forget. It’s natural to feel a range of emotions – fear, anxiety, anger and a deep sense of violation. It’s important to realize, however, that there are steps you can take to mitigate the damage. The critical thing is to act as quickly as possible.

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Here are a few key things to consider in the wake of a privacy breach:

  • Be on high alert. If your Social Security number is stolen in a data breach, you are now vastly more likely to become the victim of full-fledged identity theft. This means you should be extraordinarily cautious and thorough in the months following the incident.
  • Immediately contact the “Big Three” credit reporting agencies (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax) and have a fraud alert attached to your credit report. Contact all your credit card issuers, banks, and other financial institutions and alert them to the theft.
  • Monitor all of your accounts. Ask to have alerts sent to you directly every time there is activity on any of your financial accounts, such as a password change, a change of address or unexplained charges.
  • Opt for credit monitoring services or other similar forms of data security. In some cases, companies that have been breached will offer to pay for this service for affected customers for up to 12 months.
  • Change your passwords. Take this opportunity to improve them. Use two-step verification whenever possible. Make sure you use a variety of difficult to crack passwords, rather than rely on the same handful of passwords for all of your accounts.
  • Keep a close eye on your health care records. Data thieves love the level of detail these documents offer.
  • If someone steals your identity, contact the authorities. While your local police department may not be able to offer much practical help, contacting them establishes that you are actively seeking to address the problem. You may also wish to contact the Fair Trade Commission (FTC) and file a report.
  • Do not click on suspicious e-mails. Hackers have become incredibly savvy when it comes to creating convincing scam e-mails. Do not open anything you have even the slightest doubt about.

The Takeaway

Discovering that you’ve been a victim of data or identity theft is a frightening experience. However, it doesn’t have to be a financially ruinous one. By following the advice outlined above, you can limit the damage – and help prevent such theft from occurring in the future.