Man wearing beanie is coding with three monitors.

How to Protect Your Identity From Thieves

Most people know you shouldn’t go around sharing your social security number with random strangers. But in today’s tech-dominated society, protecting your identity isn’t just about keeping your social security card in a security lock box. Most identity theft occurs online. 

To protect your identity, you need to keep your personal information, bank account and credit card numbers, passwords, PINS, and other identifying information secure. Here are some tips explaining what to do when your identity is stolen.

What it means to have your identity stolen

To have the realization “I think someone stole my identity” is scary. If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity fraud, it is important to understand what it means so you can prepare for the next steps.

The definition of identity theft is to steal someone’s personal information for the purpose of committing fraud. There are a few different forms of fraud a thief can commit under someone else’s identity, such as:

  • Opening financial accounts
  • Forging your signature to steal funds
  • Applying for credit
  • Taking out an auto loan to purchase a car
  • Receiving medical services
  • Filing tax returns

The thief’s ultimate goal is almost always financial gain. They typically access and steal your personal information through your wallet, purse, computer, or online accounts. 

What to do when your identity is stolen

So, what do you do when your identity is stolen? There is an established process you should follow in order to protect yourself. It’s important to act quickly in order to minimize any negative impacts caused by a potential theft of your identity.

If you are enrolled in an identity theft protection plan, you should also contact your insurance company. They are prepared to help guide you through the next steps, which include:

Contact fraud alert department

Pick up the phone and call one of the major credit bureaus’ fraud alert departments. You’ll need to place a fraud alert on your account in order to stop thieves from committing fraud with your account. Call one of these agencies as soon as possible. You will need to provide your name, social security number, address, and any other identifying information they request. 

The credit reporting agencies you can call are:

  • Equifax
  • TransUnion 
  • Experian

With this alert, the credit bureau you contact is required to inform the other two agencies. An alert will be linked to your credit report. If an institution pulls your credit report, they will see the alert that your identity may have been stolen or otherwise compromised and they will contact you in order to verify that you are asking to pull your credit report. 

File a police report

After you get off the phone with a credit reporting agency, dial the non-emergency number for your local police department and file a police report. Filing a police report is important for multiple reasons. First off, it documents the identity theft and creates a paper trail that may come in handy later. If your identity is used to commit any crimes in the future, such as writing fraudulent checks, this police report will help clear your name and resolve misunderstandings in a timely manner.

This police report is also critical for the credit bureaus. They will need the report in order to investigate any fraudulent activity on your credit report. 

Finally, your police department may be able to catch the perpetrator, but only if they are located locally. Your local police department may not be able to do anything about the identity theft if the thief is out of the state or the country.

Contact banks and alert them

Don’t put the phone down for too long after talking to the police officers. Next, you’ll need to talk to your banks and lenders and tell them your identity was stolen. You should request a new credit card and change your PIN. 

Woman at the marketplace with daughter while her wallet is getting stolen.

How do I avoid identity theft?

Perhaps your identity has been stolen — it’s safe to say that you never want to go through it again. What can you do to prevent identity theft in the future?

Signing up for identity protection is a good first step. With an identity protection plan, threats of identity theft may be caught before the problem escalates. Our Safeguard Discount Plan, for example, offers checking and saving account alerts and credit inquiry alerts. 

You should also make sure you are being as secure as possible with your passwords. Create unique passwords for each account instead of reusing the same one or two for everything. A password manager can help you keep track of all your passwords. 

You should also be protective of your personal information, such as your credit card number, bank account statements, and your medical statements. File away mail and statements, then shred any personal information you don’t want to keep. Protect your wallet and purse while you are out of the home. 

It can be overwhelming to know what to do when your identity is stolen, but with these simple tips, you’ll be more likely to stop any thieves in their tracks and protect your personal finances.