What Is Identity Theft? How to Prevent It, and How to Recover From It

Identity theft can happen to anyone, regardless of who you are, where you are from, or what you do for a living. It can happen to you just as it happened to me.

When a Cybermonster stole my identity to smuggle women into the US, I felt like my life was managed by someone else. When I googled my name, I saw that everything was in Chinese characters. My heart just stopped. I wanted to cry, scream and hide, all at the same time.

All I wanted was to feel safe again, for things to go back to normal, and to wake up from this nightmare. I spent all my time hoping this wasn’t happening. The reality is it did happen – for six long years.

What is Identity Theft?

Identity theft means that someone has stolen your personal information to commit fraud or pretend to be you. Cybermonsters use your personal information like your name, Identification documents, driver license, or credit card number without your permission to commit fraudulent crimes. Identity theft could also happen through your social media accounts, your email, or mobile phone.

Identity theft is not just about your name. When someone impersonates you, they could get access to your family, your business, your personal finances, and everything you own.

What Are The Five Types of Identity Theft?

There are many types of identity theft. They vary in terms of severity and also based on the type of information used to commit fraud.

Five of The Most Common Types of identity theft:

1. Financial Identity Theft: This is the most common type of identity theft because cybercrime is an illegal business. The financial motivation is high. Cybermonsters will impersonate you so they can gain access to your money – whether it’s stealing and using your credit or debit card information, opening credit lines under your name, or finding ways to get access to your bank account details to drain it.

2. Medical Identity Theft: Cybermonsters use your personal information, such as your name, your social security number, and your health insurance information. Why? To either receive medical care in your name, get prescription drugs, buy medical devices, or even submit a claim to your medical insurance.

3. Criminal Identity Theft: Someone will commit a crime, posing as you when they get in trouble. They may use your name, data of birth, social security number and any other personal information during an investigation or arrest. Imagine if your data is added to the state criminal database or potentially the national database!

4. Child Identity Theft: This type of identity theft happens when a Cybermonster uses a child’s sensitive personal information to obtain services or benefits such as applying for government benefits, healthcare coverage or nutrition assistance. It also applies to committing fraud (such as applying for a credit card or loan, signing up for utility services, or renting a living space by using your name, social security number, address, or date of birth.)

5. Synthetic Identity Theft: This form of identity theft combines real and fake information. It’s using your social security number with fake name or address, therefore creating a new identity. This form of identity theft is more impactful to financial institutions, lenders, insurances, and government agencies; however, if a Cybermonster is using your social security number, even when the rest of the information is not yours, it could affect your credit score or haunt you in many ways.

3 Ways to Prevent Identity Theft

Limit

Reducing/limiting the amount of personal information you share on social media is an excellent way to prevent identity theft. Take advantage of the privacy features to be in charge of your information!

Data such as the place and date of birth, address, school information, and any other personal information is best to be kept for your consumption only or your closest friends at the most.

Shredding your personal documents (statements, receipts, medical bills, expired credit card, etc.). The personal information we share is a choice we make every single day!

Check

Checking your bills, accounts and financial and medical statements regularly. Placing alerts for all your financial transactions can help you to avoid the painful process to prove you didn’t spend that money or you didn’t receive that medical procedure. Also freeze your credit scores with each of the nationwide credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion and check your reports at least once a year.

Ask

When you activate your inquiring-mind, it is less likely you will give out your information. Make a conscious choice before giving your sensitive personal information (such as your social media, address, or driver’s license number).

My husband and I recently moved to a new house, so we used “the asking way” to activate our utility services. In every case, we were able to use an alternative way to set up our account other than using our social security information. One way you can do this is by providing with a recommendation letter from your previous utility service company.

The Why-What-How Questions You Can Ask to Prevent Identity Theft:

WHY do you need this information?

WHAT other identifier can you provide?

HOW will they protect your information?

4 Simple Steps to Recover From Identity Theft

Recovering from identity theft looks different for everyone, depending on the type of identity theft suffered.

These are the 4 steps that are common to all cases of Identity Theft:

Recognize – look for signs of identity theft and validate if someone is impersonating you. Even if you are very busy, prioritize investigating any warning signs that something may be happening, such as any mistakes on your statements or accounts, any messages received from your friends notifying you that someone else may be posing as you, or receiving suspicious phone calls.

Reclaim – take actions to take back your life and recover your identity. This may include doing an inventory of your accounts and your financial information, resetting your passwords, removing malware from your devices, communicating to your family and friends about the incident, and investing your precious time to take your life back.

Report – follow the steps outlined on IdentityTheft.gov and contact the organizations and institutions you identified in step 2. Follow the instructions carefully so you can be in charge of your personal information again.

Rejoice – Cybermonsters are always looking for victims, so when you remove them from your accounts, from your credit reports, from your social media, from your medical records or any other personal information they have abused, take the time to celebrate yourself and be proud.

How can I find out if someone is stealing my identity?

The first step to find out if someone is stealing your identity is to check your credit reports. When you do this, you can verify if someone has opened an account, credit card, or loan under your name. If you have creditors after you for charges you didn’t incur in, it will show up in your credit reports, as well. An additional sign that your identity may have been misused is receiving statements or bills you don’t recognize. It could be that you’ve stopped receiving your bill statements, or that you are denied credit. You could find transactions on your bank account or credit card statements, or even tax filings that you didn’t make.

What Do You Do if Someone Steals Your Identity?

As soon as you realize a suspicious activity in your accounts or information, you must take action and report that your identity has been stolen! There is a 60-day window to report suspicious activities in your account in order for financial institutions to restore the illegal spend in your account. After this period, you may be liable for the full amount stolen. In some cases, the recovery process takes months or even years, depending on how severe your case is. However, the quicker you act, the easier it is going to be to remediate the issues.

How Do I Report Identity Theft?

You must file an identity theft report with your local police department.

This is a list of what you will need:

  • Provide a photo ID, passport or other proof of your identity.
  • Submit a copy of your identity theft report to the FTC.gov. They can recommend steps for your Identity Theft recovery plan.
  • Provide proof of address. You typically need to share a payment stub, utility bill, or any other official document or statement that lists your address.
  • Provide your evidence and log the steps you take! Take screenshots of suspicious activities, provide fraudulent billing reports or statements, collector letters, IRS notices, etc. Record the numbers you called, names of people you spoke with including the dates and time and keep a copy of any correspondence, affidavits and reports related to your identity theft.
  • In addition to your timely report, you must go through three phases in which you will be taking steps to restore your information: gather, secure and protect.

Identity Theft Gather Phase: Gather evidence (like past due bills you don’t recognize, collection entries in our credit history, unauthorized charges on your bank accounts, or even social media impersonations) to prove you are a victim of identity theft.

Identity Theft Secure Phase: Contact the companies, institutions and banks for the accounts that have been compromised. Cancel the accounts and report the fraud to prevent more unauthorized charges. Secure your access to your accounts by changing your username, passwords or PIN numbers. List all the accounts that you use with sensitive financial or medical data, such as retail stores, phone services, and health portal, among others.

Identity Theft Protect phase: Freezing and placing a fraud alert in your accounts is beneficial to prevent someone from opening a new credit line under your name. Both of these services are available in each of the credit bureaus. Not only are they free, you can also unfreeze them at any time.

Identity Theft Recovery Checklist

  • Gather evidence
  • Make sure you have a freeze on your credit score with each credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion).
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit score with each credit bureau (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) to activate additional measures.
  • Contact your financial institutions, lenders, and insurance agents and notify them your identity has been compromised.
  • Opt out of those annoying prescreened credit card and insurance offers you get in the mail. To opt out for five years and prevent someone else from applying unlawfully using your information and their own address, call toll-free 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888-567-8688) or visit www.optoutprescreen.com.

Protect Your Identity!

When someone uses your personal information without your permission to commit fraud or other crimes, it creates a myriad of challenges in every aspect of your life. I experienced this first hand and so have many of my clients. Besides the challenges to recover my identity, there were other consequences.

Identity Theft impacted my career and my marriage. Feeling like I had lost control of my life caused me to live in fear and feel debilitating shame. This is why I am passionate about cyber safety awareness. This is why I want to help you take the preventive steps to protect you and your family from identity theft.

What is one step you can commit to take today to protect your identity? Share with us below!

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