Why It's Important to Report Identity Theft and How to Do It

Technology has changed our lives for good. We can communicate with our loved ones across at the click of a button, or get emergency medical help within minutes. However, with increased digitalization comes a tremendous downside, identity theft.

From 2012 to 2016, The Federal Trade Commission’s online database of consumer complaints received 13 million complaints including 40% which were fraud related, and 13% which were related to identity theft complaints.

Why It’s Important to Report Identity Theft
ID thieves can steal your identity in seconds using a variety of online and offline techniques. However, stealing isn’t the worst part. The actual trouble begins when the thieves use the stolen identity to commit financial fraud in your name or sell the sensitive information on the black market. As a result, an identity theft victim can suffer incomprehensible pain.
Thieves can use your credentials to secure a new line of credit, use your health insurance to get illicit health benefits, or even worse, commit a crime in your name. It can virtually wipe out all your finances and probably your social life too.

Unfortunately, there is no way to recognize an identity theft before it happens. The only way is to discover and report it as soon as possible to avoid further damage. You should always stay vigilant to notice any suspicious activity in your bank or credit card accounts and take proper precautions to safeguard your personal documents, credit cards, and follow good internet practices to protect your identity. Here is what you can do if it is compromised.

Contact the Credit Bureaus 
The first thing you need to do is to contact Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, the three major credit bureaus, to place a fraud alert or ask for a complete credit freeze to mitigate the damages caused by ID theft. Initially, the fraud alert will last for 90 days. The alert will automatically notify all the creditors not to authorize any new line of credit in your name, stopping the further misuse of your identity. You can also extend the fraud alert for another seven years if necessary: I recommend doing this because resolving an ID theft can take months or even years depending on the damage.

Inform Your Lenders
At the same time, you also need to inform your lenders including bank, insurance company, investment firms, and private organizations. The lender will close the account immediately. Most lenders have anti-fraud departments where you can lodge a written complaint. However, you may experience some resistance, especially if it is a minor fraud.

Most businesses will also refuse to share the fraudulent transaction details with you saying it is confidential information. However, by law, they are required to share all the details with you and the investigating officer designated by you. You will need to be persistent and patient. In any case, make sure to follow up regularly and get copies of all paperwork involved in the transactions as they will prove helpful in resolving your complaint.

File Reports with FTC and Local Police
The best way to report ID theft is to download the Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit form from the FTC's website and lodge an online complaint. The process is quite self-explanatory and easy-to-use, even for an internet novice. Compared to an ordinary police report, you will need to include extensive details such as dates, times, and amount of fraudulent transactions. Bank account numbers, credit and debit card details and other personal information as well. So, keep all fraud related details handy before going ahead with the process.
Next step is to file a report with the local police. Whether you should file the police report first or the FTC complaint is a matter of debate. Whichever report you file first, make sure there is no delay in registering the other one as it may affect your recovery process. You will also need to reference one report to the other one. For example, if you file the FTC report first, reference it with the police report and vice versa. 

Contact the Social Security Administration
If you are a US citizen, chances are identity thieves may also steal your Social Security Number (SSN). With a stolen SSN, the criminals can assume the real person’s name and do almost anything from obtaining a mortgage to committing a crime. Unlike a credit card, you can’t close your SSN and get a new one instead. That’s why it is imperative to inform the Social Security Administration of the ID theft as soon as possible. I suggest you should notify SSA even if you’re not sure whether your SSN was stolen. 

Alternatively, you can also view the earnings posted to your record on your Social Security Statement. You can log into your personal Social Security account to check any discrepancies in your statement. If you see any inconsistencies, contact the Social Security Administration immediately. If you don't have an account, open one today. You can open this account even if you have a fraud alert or credit freeze on your SSN.

Sign up for an Identity Theft Protection Service
You can also register with an identity theft detection and recovery service provider. However, this isn't something you should do after the theft has taken place. The service provider will help during the recovery process only if you were registered with them prior to the theft. Besides, the purpose of this service is to protect potential victims of identity theft.

Usually, these companies offer four services including credit monitoring, expert support, ID theft insurance, and information surveillance (through the internet and public sources). Though they cannot stop the theft from happening, the service provider can mitigate the damage to a great extent. 

Reporting identity theft isn't going to melt your troubles away. The recovery process is arduous and time-consuming. However only the Federal Trade Commission can currently collect valuable information about the modus operandi of ID thieves through your complaints. So, it is perhaps the only reliable way to report and recover your stolen identity.

Also, the accurate filing of your report will also help speed up the recovery process. Hopefully you will never have to face this grim situation. But if the misfortune befalls you, the advice will help you ride the storm assuredly. 

What’s Hot on Infosecurity Magazine?