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Identity Theft: What to Do If It Happens To You


Identity theft happens when someone illegally gathers your personal information with the intention of using it to commit fraud. The identity thief can use your information to file taxes, get medical services, make purchases, or obtain credit.  Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), identity theft victims have the right to:

  • Place fraud alerts with the three major credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies (CRA)
  • Place a security freeze on your credit reports from the three main credit reporting agencies
  • Get copies of your credit reports from the three main credit bureaus
  • Obtain information from debt collectors
  • Stop businesses from reporting inaccurate information to credit reporting bureaus
  • Obtain documents about fraudulent accounts opened or purchases made using your information

Should you become a victim of identity theft, you should take the following urgent steps to stop the criminal from continuing to use your information:

Contact the credit reporting agencies

If you find out that someone stole your identity, you should contact credit reporting agencies as soon as possible. You might also want to request a fraud alert for at least a year. This will prevent any fraudsters from using your information to obtain credit. Once you have placed a fraud alert, businesses will have to verify the identity of anyone using your information to obtain credit.

Contact the affected banks and companies

This is another step you must take as soon as you realize that someone compromised your identity. Contact the fraud departments of the financial institutions and businesses where your identity was used fraudulently.  This step might require you to freeze the affected accounts.

Ask for copies of your credit accounts

It’s important that you get free copies of your credit report from the three major credit reporting bureaus. Since each bureau’s report might be different, getting copies from all of them will ensure that you don’t miss anything.

Report the identity theft to the FTC

Although reporting identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is not a requirement, the report it issues may help you prove the identity theft to businesses and financial institutions. Law enforcement agencies such as the police or the FBI  may use the information the FTC gathers to help arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of identity theft.

Contact local law enforcement

Once you get a report from the FTC, you should contact your local police department.  Bring proof of your current address, a government-issued photo ID, and any proof you might have that your identity was stolen. Remember to ask for a copy of the police report in case you need it.

Clean up your accounts

You will also need to contact other companies where you have accounts, such as  utility and phone companies, and cancel any fraudulent accounts. You can also choose to open new accounts with new account numbers. Remember to create strong passwords for all your accounts.

Final word

The steps we have discussed in this post will put you on the right path to reporting identity fraud. However, as you can see, the effort required to get your identity back can be a huge mountain to climb, depending on how severe the damage is. It’s important to protect yourself going forward, and take action as soon as you realize someone has stolen your identity.


Identity Theft vs. Identity Fraud


Although identity theft and identity fraud may seem similar.  Though the terms may even be used interchangeably, they are not the same.  Understanding the difference between these two crimes can help you protect yourself and prepare adequately to handle them when they happen.

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is the stealing of personal data (private or financial information) with the intent of using it to assume another’s person’s identity.  Critical information that identity fraudsters target includes full name, date of birth, address, bank accounts, passwords, social security number, and credit card numbers.

Because of technological advancements, today’s criminals can commit identity theft on a broader scale than ever before. For example, They can hack into government and business servers and steal the personal information of millions of people instantly. Other common methods that criminals use to steal your data include:

  • Malware- Fraudsters commonly use “freebies” to lure you into downloading free software loaded with malware to open up your computer and your network to the criminals.
  • Phishing – In a phishing attempt, a criminal emails the intended victim using a malicious email. If the recipient of the email acts on it, the criminal gains access to a large amount of the victim’s data.
  • Low tech tactics- An identity thief does not necessarily require sophisticated skills to steal personal details. Simple methods such as dumpster diving, mail theft, or collecting a lost wallet or mobile phone can help fraudsters lay their hands on valuable information.

What is identity fraud?

Identity fraud is the use of stolen private, personal, or financial information. Identity fraud affects the individual whose identity is used as well as the business where the fake identity is used to make transactions.

Fraudsters don’t always have to use the identity of a living person.  They sometimes use the identity of a deceased person to commit fraud. Criminals can also use different pieces of information from different people to create a new identity.

Some of the most common types of identity fraud include:

  • Credit card fraud – A criminal uses a stolen credit card or credit card number to purchase something
  • Phone or utility fraud involves using someone else’s info to open a cell phone or utility account
  • Loan or lease fraud- Using someone else’s information to get a lease or a loan
  • Employment or tax-related fraud- Utilizing someone else’s info and social security number to file an income tax return or gain employment
  • Bank fraud- Fraudsters use someone else’s details to open an account or take over an existing financial account
  • Government benefits fraud- Obtaining government benefits by using someone else’s information
  • Criminal identity fraud- An arrestee uses someone else’s name and identifying information when presenting himself or herself to the authorities.

Final word

As you can see, there is a difference between these two crimes. While identity theft is the stealing of someone else’s private information, identity fraud is the fraudulent use of this information. Remember to keep your private information safe.  This will help minimize the chances of becoming a future victim of identity theft or fraud.