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What to Do If You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

In 2016, identity theft in the United States hit an all-time high in incidents. The 2017 Identity Fraud Study by Javelin Strategy & Research found overall fraud increased 16 percent in 2016, to affect 6.15 percent of U.S. consumers. A recent significant hack occurred as recently as a few months ago, when from May through July 2017, the personal data of 143 million people whose data had been collected by credit reporting agency Equifax, including names and social security numbers, was hacked because of a security flaw. The company only announced the breach in September, after discovering it at the end of July. Customers can find out if they were impacted by the hack by visiting the Equifax website here, where they can enroll in complimentary identity theft protection and credit file monitoring. 

Card-not-present fraud, such as theft occurring online through e-commerce channels, is a significant factor that is driving up incident rates. The proliferation of personal information shared via social networks is also giving fraudsters more data to work with when they commit identity theft crimes.

If you’re an identity theft victim, a best-case scenario is catching a thief early after only a single incident. In worse cases, identity thieves may assume your identity as they live out their own lives, going to lengths such as purchasing homes in your name or even starting a family as “you”. If you discover that you are a victim of identity theft, here are steps to take to pursue action and stay safe.

Protect Against Future Identity Theft

If you have been a victim of this type of crime, you need to know how to protect yourself from Identity Theft in the future. Besides vigilantly protecting your identity online by creating strong passwords and not clicking on suspicious links, investing in a service that monitors your identity for you can help to bring you peace of mind in the future. Lifelock, Identity Force and Identity Guard are identity protection companies that offer prevention services and up to $1 million in coverage to help you recover after the identification theft has occurred.

Start with the Problem

Wherever you first notice that you are a victim of identity theft, whether it is through an odd charge on your bank statement or you’re contacted by an institution questioning you about a payment you never made, use that as a starting point to protect yourself overall. Freeze the card that was used, or completely freeze or shutdown the account to prevent more charges from being made.

Notify All Financial Institutions

You’ll also want to take a look at any other financial statements you have, so you can proactively notice more fraudulent charges. From your bank to your 401k provider, you’ll want to contact everyone you do business with to notify them that someone has stolen your identity. This enables those institutions to put an alert on your account, watch for and stop any suspicious behavior. You can also close the accounts you have all together and open new ones.

Contact a Credit Report Agency

Like the scanning of your bank and financial statements, you should also check your latest credit report to see if your score has had any drastic changes. You’ll also want to put a fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one of the three main credit reporting bureaus Experian, Equifax, or Transunion to place the alert and also make sure they alert the other two agencies about your claim.

File a Report with the Federal Trade Commission

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a government agency that provides assistance to identity theft victims and guarantees rights such as blocking fraudulent information from affecting a credit report and stopping debt collectors from contacting you. To fill out an identity theft report with the FTC, go here. Make sure to send the report to your financial institutions and credit reporting agency.

Contact Police

You can also call non-emergency services to fill out a police report if your identity has been stolen. A report can serve as beneficial documentation should you take your case to court, and you can also send the report to institutions you’ve notified about the theft. Additionally, filing a report may alert police to a pattern, which can help solve your case more quickly and prevent fraud from happening to others.

Change Personal Information If Possible

If you’re not sure how the identity thief has acquired the information needed in order to unlawfully use your identity, take stock of all your online accounts and change or shield identifying information. Create new passwords, and set any profiles like social network sites to private.

Monitor Your Credit Report

You should also sign up for a free credit monitoring service and check your credit score whenever it is updated. Many banks and credit card companies now offer this a free service when you have an account with them. This is a small cost for them to pay to try and prevent bigger losses in the future and is also a benefit to you the consumer. If you do not have a banking institution that offers this service all three of the main reporting agencies offer this for a small fee. A sharp unexpected hit to your credit, new accounts, or multiple hard inquiries are all red flags that someone may be tampering with your identity, at which point you’ll want to revisit the steps here.

Contact an Attorney

You may want to consult with a qualified personal injury attorney with experience in identity theft, your case will vary depending on the severity and other details. An attorney will be able to look at what has happened and the parties involved and take your case to trial if necessary.

The Best Evidence to Have for a Personal Injury Claim

Personal injuries are something we’d all like to avoid, but they are unfortunately all too common. They happen on the road in car crashes, at work because of faulty equipment or conditions, at home because of defective products, and at so many other places for so many more reasons. According to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were 68.2 million visits to doctors’ offices because of injuries in 2013, and 39.4 million visits to emergency departments.

When a personal injury happens to you, a child or a loved one, it can be easy to get caught up in the stress of the moment and want to remove yourself from the situation immediately so you can start recovering. If you don’t take the time to gather evidence at the scene and from involved parties, though, you could sustain medical injuries that cost thousands of dollars over a lifetime. There may even be an unfortunate wrongful death case that stemmed from an incident that started with an injury.

In Alabama, victims generally have two years to file a personal injury claim, due to the statute of limitations. Being as thoroughly prepared as possible immediately after an injury happens makes you more protected. If a personal injury occurs, make sure you obtain these items, because you may file a personal injury claim that becomes stronger with evidence.

A Police Report

If you instinctively feel that an accident you were a part of warrants police involvement, don’t hesitate to call 911. The most obvious case where police should come to the scene is a car accident. These types of cases may not only involve injuries and vehicle damage sustained by you and other motorists, but they may also require traffic control.

Additionally, you don’t want to run the risk of any offending parties fleeing the scene. Police who are called to an accident location can also help you gather witness information. They’ll put their observations and interviews into a police report, which is a valuable item to have in personal injury claim.

There are other traumatic events where you may consider notifying emergency services. A dog bite attack at a community park, for example, may warrant a call. Again, if you’re in an accident that you want to be documented by police, call them.

Accident Report

If you are in an accident while at work or in a public venue, such as in a slip and fall case because there was water on the ground and it wasn’t clearly marked, request that you get an accident report filled out for the case. Like a police report, your employer or the business owner will document what happened and actions that happened afterward.

Accident reports are important, because if you don’t collect one but decide to file a claim later, the people who were at the scene may have left that business or claim they have no recollection of anything happening. A report is your proof that an accident has occurred.

Damaged Physical Items

Any items that are damaged in an accident should either be preserved and retained, or photographed before they are fixed. Examples of damaged physical items you should document if you have been injured may include:

  • Vehicle or bicycle in a road accident
  • Broken stairs or other apparatus
  • Damaged and dangerous property, such as an unmended fence or overhanging branch
  • Bloodied clothing or a dented helmet
  • A broken product or machinery

Any physical item that played a role in a personal injury accident should be kept intact if possible, or photographed immediately with a timestamp.

Photos, Videos and Records of Injuries

Your body and other people’s bodies may start the healing process right away after an injury, so it’s important to be quick in getting photographic or video evidence of injuries sustained in accidents. Matted hair, blood and cuts, bruising and any other type of injury should be photographed at the scene if possible.

You should also keep all medical records for injury treatment, as well as keep a daily journal about how you’re feeling. Take subsequent photos of injuries to document their progression. What another party might say was a minor accident that barely caused a bruise may actually cause painful injuries that last for months on your end.

Evidence of the Scene of the Accident

It’s crucial to take photos of the overall scene of the accident, as well as other details. Besides physical objects and body parts that have been affected, other things to document at the scene with photos include:

  • Road, sidewalk or floor conditions
  • Surrounding objects, such as machinery or traffic lights
  • Anything that looks odd or out of place, such as stains or dents

Depending on when you file a claim, your memory of the accident conditions may start to fade. Having photographic evidence that is taken from a variety of angles as soon as possible after an accident helps you to remember the details more vividly. Additionally, you may revisit the scene of the accident to capture details you might have initially missed.

Witness Testimony

If there are any bystanders at the time you experience an accident, you must try to talk with them and get their contact information. Ask them to stay at the scene if you have emergency services coming, but at the very least, ask for their name, phone number, email address and physical address. Point out potential witnesses to police when they arrive. Witnesses can be key assets in everything from car accidents, to physical attacks, to injuries sustained on the job.

Your own testimony will play an integral role in any claim you file, as well. Be honest and as detailed as you can with police. After the accident, make sure to write down your own full, detailed account of what happened. Do this with another witness present, and make sure you both sign and date the document. This is another item that can help boost your testimony in the future and allow you to focus on recovery.

Your Evidence Can Make or Break Your Claim

Accidents that cause personal injury are expected to be scary and stressful. You deserve to heal, but part of that healing involves the protection of your finances and your peace of mind. Taking the time to be diligent at the scene is a wise way to protect you in the future.

If the injuries you have experienced make it difficult to collect evidence on your own, ask whomever you’re with for help. If you are not with someone you personally know and trust, request assistance from police or from someone else at the scene if possible. If you believe your personal injury was caused by the negligence of another party, consult with a personal injury attorney in Birmingham to learn your rights.

Pittman Dutton and Hellums

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