“It will never happen to me.”
That’s probably what many of the roughly 15 million Americans who are victimized each year by identity theft tell themselves, before they discover it has indeed happened to them.
According to the Rob Douglas, an identity theft expert with www.identitytheft.info/about identity theft costs those 15 million victims close to $50 billion in financial losses, or roughly $3,500 per person. And that figure doesn’t include the lost time and emotional toll that identity theft often exacts from its victims. What’s more, incidents of identity theft have increased some 28 percent between 2005 and 2010, according to the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics.
“It means, basically that, somebody has declared war on your personhood, on you and everything you have acquired,” explains Richard Hoe, ChFC, CLU, AEP, a financial planner based in Tulsa, Okla. “So if you’re a victim, you have to fight back immediately. At times it’s going to be painful, difficult and all-consuming. But if you fight back, things will get better. If you don’t, they can get much worse.”
If you suspect you’re a victim of identity theft, take immediate action, following the suggestions from Hoe listed below:
1. Go immediately to U.S. government identity theft websites such as the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s at www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt07.shtm and the FBI’s at www.justice.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html. They’re good sources for information on identity theft and provide lists of government and private agencies to contact to file complaints.
2. Promptly contact appropriate law enforcement agencies. The FBI recommends victims contact local law enforcement and request a report be provided to the FBI’s identity theft database. This database contains descriptive records and other information that law enforcement personnel can use to determine if an individual is a victim of identity theft.
Then, to report the fraudulent use of your identity, call the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338) or visit www.consumer.gov.
If your passport has been stolen or compromised, contact the U.S. State Dept. at 202-955-0430 or visit www.travel.state.gov.
3. Notify the three credit rating bureaus to put a “fraud alert” on your credit reports. Call only one of the three; they are required to then alert the other two on your behalf.
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374- 0241.
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013.
4. Notify all banks, mortgage companies, lenders, credit card companies, auto and home insurers, life insurance companies and health insurance companies, brokerage and advisory firms, and trust companies with which you hold accounts and/or do business. Notify them by phone first, then follow up by email, a mailed letter and a letter sent by certified mail. Ask each of these entities if they advise changing your account number(s), online ID(s) and password(s).
“It is a really good idea,” Hoe adds, “to have the bank freeze your accounts and issue new account numbers.” Also, if you access brokerage accounts online, ask your broker how best to proceed.
With entities such as banks or brokerage houses that you contact, request to be notified immediately if anyone other than you tries to initiate account activity, such as a bank withdrawal.
5. Notify the accountants, attorneys and other professionals with whom you do business.
6. Notify relevant municipal (including real estate and property tax officials), state and federal government entities, tax authorities and the state treasurer or other official who handles unclaimed property.
7. Notify the bureau that issues and renews your driving license and request to change your driving license number.
8. Also notify:
Your children and key relatives, and, of course, anyone who might have power-of-attorney.
Your employer and the employers of family members.
The Social Security Administration, whether or not you’re receiving Social Security payments.
Any relevant professional licensing bureaus. For example, if you are a doctor, lawyer, or insurance agent, ask to change your professional license number(s).
9. Change your email provider and stop using your old email address. If you use Google, for example, switch to Yahoo or MSN. Using your new address, notify all your relevant email contacts that you have changed your email address.
10. Consider subscribing (for a fee) to an identity protection service. “Granted, it’s shutting the door after the horse has escaped,” said Hoe, “but it should keep the horse from escaping twice.” You should also buy a document shredder and shred everything that is disposed of that contains sensitive material.
This column is provided by the Financial Planning Association® (FPA®), the leadership and advocacy organization connecting those who provide, support and benefit from professional financial planning. FPA is the community that fosters the value of financial planning and advances the financial planning profession and its members demonstrate and support a professional commitment to education and a client-centered financial planning process. Please credit FPA if you use this column in whole or in part.
Image by Monstercat Studios.