Identity theft is simply the intentional use of another person’s identity, either for personal gain or to obtain credit and benefits from the other individual’s name, typically without their consent or against their will. It is an act of deception, but it can also be illegal fraud, which can result in lawsuits for negligence. Because it is such a widespread problem, it is important to know what to do if your identity has been stolen, what you can expect from your identity thieves and what you can do yourself. This article describes the basics of identity theft, the most common ways it occurs, and what you can do about it.
Identity theft involves the theft of your personal information. This can include your social security number, bank account numbers, driver’s license number, credit card numbers, passwords, medical and dental records, names, birth dates, addresses, and more. Your personal information can then be used to obtain new accounts, goods, loans, credit cards, or any other benefit you may think is available to you. In the worst cases, identity thieves can also use your identity to obtain jobs, obtain credit, and even open new checking and savings accounts. Identity theft is a criminal offense and can carry serious consequences for you.
Although identity theft can affect you in different ways, the most common effects are the most obvious. You may notice that you are getting calls on your cell phone with a strange number or that you have to keep opening and closing your mail in order to remember who sent it. If you have bills in your mail addressed to you that have been mistakenly left or paid, you may also notice that you do not remember ever receiving those bills. Other signs of identity theft include getting personal notices in the mail that were not you or anyone else you know sending, getting phone calls from an unfamiliar number, missing checks or statements, and having your check register show a lower balance than it actually does.
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to monitor your credit card and bank statements. Be sure to check your statements regularly to make sure you do not miss any charges. Make sure your checks and bank statements do not contain your social security number, or other important information that can be used to make your identity available. If you suspect someone is trying to get your credit card number or other personal information, report them to the credit bureau. Be sure to report any suspicious activity to the bank as well.
If identity theft has already occurred, the best thing you can do for yourself is to try to put a stop to it. The easiest way to do this is to notify your bank and credit card companies about the possible identity theft. It is best to immediately notify all three so they can investigate and report the situation to credit bureaus and help you put a stop to it.
You may also need to contact your bank directly, as it may be easier for the bank to help. Often, the bank is able to remove unauthorized transactions from your credit account immediately, but you may need to go to court to stop the account holder. The bank may also help you dispute statements that have already been issued that you have no knowledge of. Some credit companies will require you to have a copy of a signed and dated statement, as well as proof of identity and proof of address and current address, in order to remove a transaction from your account.