If you’ve ever been in a serious accident, you know that your first impulse in the immediate aftermath is to assess the damage. Can you move? Are you hurt? Once those questions are answered, you can proceed to address bigger problems, such as what happened, and how you can recover.
Victims of identity theft experience something similar. Finding out that your personal information has been compromised can come as a big shock. The first thing you need to do is determine exactly how much has been stolen.
Not all identity theft is created equal
A recent article on The Street notes that there are a number of ways that personal information can be stolen, and that some have more severe consequences than others.
For example, theft of a credit card number can lead to a series of fraudulent charges. This is unfortunately a relatively common occurrence, but it can be resolved through a conversation with your bank. As long as it is handled in a timely manner, credit card theft does not have to result in full-on identity theft.
However, if thieves steal enough of your personal information without your knowledge, they may be able to go further, not only opening up new credit cards or health accounts in your name, but also taking out a mortgage. The damage that this could do to your personal finances and your credit is profound.
“You wouldn’t know until the creditor comes to collect,” Ken Chaplin, a senior vice president with TransUnion, told The Street. “Identity theft is very serious and far reaching.”
No matter how serious the crime, you want to make sure that you take immediate action to control the damage.
Build a paper trail to protect your credit
If you have discovered that someone has stolen your identity, the first thing you must do is file reports with both the local police in your area and the Federal Trade Commission.
This won’t necessarily guarantee that any of the thieves will be caught—though it is possible. Rather, the record of your report will help you explain your situation to any debt collectors who may come calling.
The next step is to report the theft to the credit bureaus and seek a credit freeze. This will make it so that no one can access your credit report without a PIN.
“The credit freeze is the best preventative measure, but it’s something that you should absolutely do if you’re a victim,” Chaplin added.
Once you have become a victim of identity theft, all you can do is work to minimize the damage and prevent it from happening again. That’s why it is always best to be proactive. If you have concerns about identity theft, be sure to invest in a credit monitoring service, which can notify you of certain activity on your credit files that may indicate fraud. This can give you much-needed peace of mind, allowing you to rest assured that you’re taking important measures to safeguard your identity.