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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.

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