Taking Action Against Identity Theft: How to Find Out if You’re a Victim

In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month, we’ll be posting blogs that reflect the cyber security theme of the week as determined by the National Cyber Security Alliance. This week’s theme is “basic steps to online safety and security.”

If you’re like the majority of Americans, you have probably already received at least one data breach notification letter. These letters are required by law to be sent to consumers if they’re information has been compromised—this could mean it was downloaded illegally by a hacker, but it could also mean someone who didn’t have authorization accidentally got a peek at your data in the company’s network. It could even mean something as innocent—but still potentially harmful—as a company employee losing his work laptop with your information stored in it.

Data breach notification letters prepare you to take action in the event that your compromised information is ever used against you. Depending on how serious the breach was, it will outline the steps you should take moving forward. But a data breach letter is not the same thing as having your identity stolen. It just means that the threat is there and is even more likely than for a consumer whose information wasn’t affected. Essentially, the letter is warning you that the risk of having your identity stolen is now greater. That begs the question: how do you know if your identity has already been stolen? Most consumers find out in a variety of different ways.

1. An alert from your financial institution

The single most common type of identity theft is financial, and it happens when someone fraudulently uses your existing accounts or creates new accounts in your name. In many of these cases, your financial institution will reach out to you and inform you of suspected fraud.

Of course, that doesn’t mean the thief will be stopped or that his activity will be detected by your bank or credit card company. Some victims of identity theft only discover the crime after debt collectors start calling, or after they’re turned down for legitimate credit applications.

2. A warrant is issued for your arrest

In cases where a thief used your personal identifiable information in a criminal matter, the stakes get higher. Whether it’s a serious crime or just a simple traffic ticket, if your name and identity are used to commit criminal identity theft, you have no way of knowing about it. Since the criminal isn’t going to clear up the matter, the unresolved issue remains attached to your identity.

It’s only when there’s a reason for your name to come up in the system that your “old” crime comes to light. It might be a background check for a new job, an application for a loan, or even your attempt to enlist in the military, but that’s when the past you didn’t know about catches up with you.

3. Your child is affected

Child identity theft is an alarming crime. It was once believed that cases where children’s identities were stolen and used to open new lines of credit could be traced back to family members looking for a “clean slate.” Many times, it was even the parents who were to blame. But in this era of record numbers of data breaches, children’s identities are highly sought after by hackers because criminals have longer to use them without attracting attention to themselves.

Too often, a child can be a victim of identity theft for years before it’s ever discovered. Sometimes it’s not until they apply for college financial aid or their first jobs that their years of unpaid debt come to light.

There are a lot of other ways you might learn about your own identity theft—such as when you receive bills for medical care you didn’t seek, or statements detailing government benefits you’re not collecting—but the fact of the matter is identity theft is an emotionally destructive crime. If you have reason to believe you’ve been the victim of this crime, don’t hesitate to reach out for assistance. Contact someone immediately who can help you begin the resolution process, such as the Identity Theft Resource Center’s toll-free call center or the ITRC’s mobile help app.

Anyone can be a victim of identity theft, anyone can use our services, and anyone can help us help others. If you found this information useful, please consider donating to the Identity Theft Resource Center to help us keep our services free to the public.

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