The Issues I Faced and What I Learned
There is a drop in your stomach the first time you get a letter that starts with “we regret to inform you” and it is worse when the information is that your identity was stolen. Anything from your name and address to your credit card number and social security number can put you at serious risk for credit issues and debt that is not your own.
When you get the notification, the first thing that comes to mind is “what do I do if someone steals my identity for real?” We are talking not just having the information, but what if they are opening credit cards and going to town. What do I do?
The first reaction is to check all of your credit card statements and pull your credit report. This would be the right thing to do, which is why credit cards will tell you the last few transactions over the phone.
Great. You start checking everything. While you are checking your credit, be sure to put a freeze on your account. This stops anyone from opening new accounts without your permission. That means as long as the freeze is on your account, you get a phone call every time there if an inquiry to your credit.
So you do that and watch everything like a hawk. For a week. Then you forget.
Don’t believe me? My identity was stolen 5 times now. Let me see if I can remember correctly all of them:
- My alma mater (undergrad)
- Former Employer 1
- Retailer 1
- Former Employer Payroll Services
- Retailer 2
Not going to disclose names, but you get the point. I have been though this a few times. We are not even counting the day that my ID was stolen. My ID, credit cards, and my car; well the cards were in my car when it was stolen.
After happening so many times, you might figure I would have given up and just used cash from now on. Alas, I have 2 business degrees and know how credit impacts life choices like buying a car and home. So you deal with the identity theft.
By the third time my identity had been stolen, I was working at Rate Genius, an auto loan refinance company. Working in finance, you get to learn a lot about credit and credit reports. Taking that knowledge, what I learned in business school, and after this happening so many times, I have 5 steps to help you deal with your identify being stolen.
- If you are alerted that your information has been stolen, use any free services that the reporting company offers. The bonus is most companies that tell you that your identity was stolen due to their data breach will give you all of the information to get all of your credit reports and a discount or free year in an identity theft program. Take them up on it as it reduces your costs for a year at least.
- If you have your cards/ID stolen, alert all issuing parties immediately. I found that for credit cards, Discover is the best at helping. They overnighted a new card to me and got the charges cleared immediately.
- Stop using your debit card and your main means of payment, use one single credit card. This reduces your liability if it is stolen. This trick only works if you are good with spending though. By using a credit card mainly, you have to be disciplined enough to pay it off every month, but if you can, it is worth it.
- Shell out the money (around $100 a year) to get an identity protection service. If one promises the world, or guarantees safety, be wary. That is one thing I learned working in finance. I use the one through Discover and it emails me every time something changes on my credit report.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. In the end, there is no way to guarantee that your information is never stolen. What you can do is be proactive and protect your money. Follow these steps and keep on top of things and you’ll be fine.
These are just a few things I’ve learned. I am sure there are more ideas and tips from different perspectives but this is my account. It is all about knowing your own credit report, watching for further issues and protecting your money. But in the end, with the move to more and more digital transactions, it is likely it will happen to you at some point. The key is not to over react. There are plenty of things to help you and processes in place to keep you and your credit out of harm, the key is just accepting the help.
Bio: Kate Morris is a marketing professional. She likes to write and help others learn about finances. She has a BBA and MBA from a few Texas state schools.