How to Avoid Identity Theft after the Massive Equifax Data Breach

How Can My Identity be Stolen?

Identity thieves operate in several different ways and they can steal your identity via physical theft or by hacking your accounts. The simplest method is to steal a wallet, a briefcase or a purse to find documents, credit cards or account information. They might also look through trash bins to find documents that should have been shredded or otherwise destroyed. Another method of physical theft is looking in unlocked mailboxes for credit card information or bank notices.

However, with today's level of technology, identity thieves are employing much more sophisticated methods. They may hack accounts, databases and any other online source of information with weak security. They might not need to take your information at all; they might just trick you into giving it to them. They can impersonate a bank employee, a credit card company representative or a debt collector in order to trick you into giving the wrong person some sensitive information.

They can also set up false web pages known as phishing sites, which impersonate official websites that you would enter in specific information. Typically the sites URL will have a string of extra numbers and letters of nonsense that wouldn't normally be included.

What to do if Your Identity has been Stolen

It's important to know how to report identity theft when there is a problem with your report.

The Federal Trade Commission recommends first requesting a manual inspection of your child's credit reports from all three credit reporting bureaus. This type of search allows the agencies to look in detail at both the main file (information related to the SS number in question paired with the correct name and birth date), as well as sub-files that may have been created via a synthetic identity. These sub-files will only involve the SS number but may be connected with false information like a fake name.

If the credit files reveal suspicious activity, you should follow these steps:

  1. Record dates, times, and names of everyone you speak to and the information you received or action that is supposed to occur.
  2. Ask the credit reporting agencies to remove all fraudulent information associated with your child's name and SSN - this includes open accounts, collections, and inquiries.
  3. Request that the reporting bureaus put a fraud alert on the file. Contacting one of the agencies is sufficient (Experian, TransUnion, or Equifax) - they will contact the other two.
  4. Contact all companies involved - this includes any business from whom the thief sought or gained credit, goods, or services. Let them know that the accounts are fraudulent.
  5. File an identity theft report with the FTC.
  6. Look into filing a credit freeze (which I will cover next).
  7. File a police report.

Federal law entitles you to three free credit reports per year - one from each credit bureau, according to the FTC.

However, you may want to enlist help from a professional service when it comes to drawing up all the paperwork to submit by mail or fax in order to submit an extensive fraud alert.

How can you protect yourself from identity theft?

  • Update passwords on a regular basis.
  • Avoid easy-to-guess passwords, make strong passwords.
  • Protect your computer and mobile device.
  • Keep financial and personal documents secure, whether digital or paper.
  • Check your credit report annually with the three major credit reporting bureaus.
  • Beware of phishing and scam emails.
  • Don't share sensitive information.
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