Identity Theft: What You Need To Know Before (Or After) It Happens To You

By: Katie Wornek, UHEAA

Personally identifiable information (PII) is the data that is used to officially identify you as an individual. PII includes your full legal name, Social Security Number, date of birth, physical address, and more. Your PII is present and vital in virtually every aspect of your life, from your financial well-being and healthcare to your employment and formal education. Identity theft occurs when this information is stolen and used for someone else’s benefit. Having your identity stolen can be a stressful and financially harmful experience. Here are the ways you can protect your identity, recognize if you have been the victim of identity theft, and get your identity and financial health back on track. You can find more information about identity theft and guidance about recovering from it on the Federal Trade Commission’s website.


Ways to protect your identity

Practice good online habits. Always use secure Wi-Fi networks and create account passwords that are difficult to guess. Use a different password for each of your online accounts and consider changing your passwords periodically to make your accounts more secure.

Lock personal documents – such as your Social Security card or birth certificate – in a safe place. Consider purchasing a fireproof safe or renting a safe deposit box at your bank or credit union.

Never reveal personal information to a source you do not know or trust. If you are entering personal information online, be sure to check that the web address is legitimate. If you are entering personal information into an email, check that the recipient’s email address is valid and look for any signs of phishing, such as excessive typographical or grammatical errors or urgent or threatening language. You should also be cautious before opening any email attachments or clicking on any hyperlinks in the message.

Sign up for a credit monitoring service. You can purchase a credit monitoring service from a bank, credit union, credit card company, or other organization. Features and prices of each service will vary, but most credit monitoring services will alert you of unusual changes to your credit portfolio and give you access to your credit score.


How you know if you’ve been victimized

You see a decrease in balances. Check your checking and savings balances regularly. If you notice withdrawals from your checking or savings account that you did not initiate, this could be a sign that someone has gained access to your account.

You notice unauthorized charges. Thoroughly review your credit card statement each month to make sure that all purchases on your account are legitimate.

You cannot access accounts. If you have not recently changed your password but find yourself unable to log into online accounts such as your email, someone may have acquired your login credentials and changed your account information.

You stop receiving legitimate mail. If you stop receiving mail or online statements such as bank statements or utility bills, someone may have acquired your identity and closed your account, cancelled your service, or changed your address on file.

You start receiving illegitimate mail. If someone has stolen your identity and opened new accounts under your name, you may start to receive invoices and bills or other physical or digital correspondence from sources you do not recognize.

You receive a fraud alert. If you subscribe to a credit monitoring service (described above), you may also receive notification about any unusual activity linked to your name, address, Social Security Number, lines of credit, or bank accounts.


Steps to Take

If your bank account has been compromised, contact your bank to discuss closing your account and opening a new one with a different account number. Continue to monitor your balances for unauthorized purchases or withdrawals.

If your credit card or debit card number has been stolen, call your bank or credit card company to, report the theft, request a new card, and dispute any fraudulent charges. Continue to monitor your balances or statements for suspicious activity.

If a new account has been opened in your name, call the company that administers the account to discuss your situation.

If someone is accessing your online accounts, log in and change your password. If you cannot log in, call the customer service department for your online account.

If your driver’s license has been stolen, call the Department of Motor Vehicles to report the theft.