If you’ve been a victim of a burglary you’re already dealing with a wealth of emotional issues. Imagine your anguish when you discover that in addition to your iPad and cash, the bad guy stole your identity. It’s not unheard of. In fact, according to a U.S. Department of Justice report, nearly 17 million were victims of identity theft in 2012. That equates to seven percent of the U.S. population that is 16-years-old and older.
How to Protect Your Identity
Unfortunately, many people don’t know they’re a victim of identity theft until contacted by their bank or credit card company and, by that time, the damage is already done. To avoid the same fate, learn how to protect yourself from being victimized in the first place and be on the lookout for these clues your identify has been stolen.
Check your financial statements regularly. If your ID is stolen, the sooner you find out, the better. Review bank and credit card statements on a regular basis, and look for suspicious transactions.
Get your free credit report. You can order your credit report from the major credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) at any time. You have a right to a free report every 12 months; otherwise, you’ll have to pay a small fee. You can order your credit report online, and then review it for accuracy.
Keep passwords in a safe place. A burglar knows people often keep passwords right next to their computer, so don’t do it. Passwords should be placed in a secure location, away from your computer.
Create strong passwords. Strong passwords are more than eight characters and contain letters, numbers and a non alphabetic character. Create a unique password for each account you have. Consider using an online password generator to create robust passwords.
Don’t keep sensitive documents in your car. Burglars and identity theft professionals are known for taking a peek in your car to look for personal information. Don’t keep sensitive documents, such as your bank statements, checkbook or social security card, in your car.
Routinely shred important paperwork. Invest in a cross-cut shredder and make it a habit to shred documents that contain personal information. This includes everything from bank statements to address labels on catalogues you get in the mail.
Secure important documents in a fire-proof safe. While it’s important to shred the documents you no longer need, you can’t shred everything. Store important documents you have to keep in a fireproof safe or safety deposit box. Your passport, tax returns, and birth certificate are just a few documents identity thieves are on the hunt for. We created a guide on locking up your sensitive documents if you want to know more.
Empty your mailbox daily. Thieves won’t think twice about scavenging through your mailbox for personal information, credit card offers and utility bills they can use to steal your identity. Empty your mailbox daily and don’t leave outgoing mail in your mailbox; use an official USPS box instead.
Signs Your Identity May Have Been Stolen
After a burglary, be on the lookout for these warning signs your personal identity has been compromised.
Denial for credit cards or financing, even though you have good credit. Unbeknownst to you, the thief has already done damage to your credit score, hindering your ability to get credit.
Receiving statements for accounts you didn’t open. When the identity thief has the right information, opening an account in your name is easier than you think.
Overdue or collection notices for accounts you didn’t open. If you’re conscientious about paying your bills and suddenly receive collection notices, there’s a good chance someone is using your identity and enjoying a shopping spree.
Debits from your bank account for purchases you didn’t make. It isn’t uncommon for criminals to “test” if a debit card works by making a minimal purchase. Be aware that even the smallest unauthorized purchase can have huge implications, so check it out.
Errors or suspicious activity on your credit report. If you find even one unexplainable entry on your credit report, investigate it immediately. It could be a clue you’ve been a victim of identity theft.
Missing statements from your credit card company or bank. In an effort hide their activity, some criminals will change your address with credit card companies and financial institutions. If you suddenly stop receiving monthly statements, contact the institutions immediately.
The Identity Theft Resource Center offers more red flags that you’re a victim of identity theft.
Your Identity Was Stolen. Now What?
If your suspicions are confirmed and your identity was stolen, here’s what you need to do.
File a police report. Be sure to file an identity theft report and get the police report number. Many law enforcement agencies have an Identity Theft Team that handles more complicated ID theft cases. If your local law enforcement agency has an Identify Theft Team, don’t hesitate to contact them for help.
Alert credit card providers and financial institutions. Call your credit card providers and financial institutions immediately so they can block fraudulent charges.
Add a security alert. To help protect yourself while you review your credit report for fraudulent activity, it’s a good idea to add a 90 day security alert to your credit history. If you find unauthorized activity on your credit report, you may want to use one or more of these form and letter templates to rectify the situation.