Identity theft is a growing concern, especially as we all expand our digital identities.
In light of cyber-security awareness month every October, it is important to know exactly what to do if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft. In the event of a compromised identity, there are three critical actions that you need to take.
During 2019, I received a particularly disconcerting surprise. After an odd alert on my phone, I signed into my online banking. To my horror, my credit card bill was several thousand dollars higher than it should have been, all within the last 24 hours.
Call Your Financial Institutions
The first thing you need to do as soon as possible is to call your banks and credit card issuers, putting a stop payment on all your cards.
Most identity theft has one purpose, to steal your financial resources. By racking up bills and charges, you can quickly find yourself swimming in debt for purchases you never made.
Fortunately, by reporting quickly, you can have those charges stopped, and even reversed so that you don’t owe anything.
In 2019 after my credit card details were compromised, I immediately called Visa to explain those charges weren’t legitimate. Within 5 minutes, I had laid out that these charges were indeed not mine, and shouldn’t be charged to me.
That simple phone call, made quickly, had all my cards locked, the charges reversed, and new cards reissued and in the mail.
Of course, the most important things here are transparency, honesty, and speed.
When I called Visa, they had actually already flagged those transactions on my account as suspicious. My honesty through the process meant that the whole situation was resolved quickly. But calling the bank isn’t always enough.
Report the Fraudulent Activity
While a compromised card might not be full-fledged identity theft, if there are concerns that the fraud goes deeper, you need to report that theft to the authorities.
Notifying the police is a good first step, especially if the identity theft includes the loss of personal identifying documents like your driver's license.
The next group to identify are fraud protection agencies. In Canada, you should be contacting the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre. In the US, you should be contacting the FTC. Each of these consumer protection groups provides additional resources to you, the victim, and also take steps to protect others from similar incidents.
Update All Passwords and Accounts
We’ve all experienced the frustration of our employer’s IT department forcing a password change every 90 days. You can’t reuse old passwords, they can’t be too easy to guess, and you’ve still got to change them every 90 days?
But if your identity does get compromised, the third item on your action list should be to update all your passwords immediately. A password generator like lastpass can help generate strong passwords.
Identity theft is a serious problem, and getting more and more prevalent in our society. While changing your passwords frequently and protecting your personal identifying information are both important, we can’t always protect ourselves from the unseen.
If someone does get a hold of your personal or financial details, it is important to act quickly and decisively. Set aside panic and hold off on your anger. Following these three steps will help you protect your resources, and recover from identity theft quickly.