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What to do if you’re the victim of identity theft

chris-potter-credit-cards-in-wallet-1-flickr-creative-commonsAccording to the United States Department of Justice, identity theft and identity fraud are crimes. The terms refer to all types of crime in which someone wrongfully obtains and uses another person’s personal data in a fraudulent or deceptive way, typically resulting in economic gain.   These crimes are particularly invasive as a victim’s losses may include not only financial losses, but additional financial and emotional costs associated with trying to restore her good name and reputation in the community while correcting erroneous information for which the criminal is responsible.

Personal data can include things like your Social Security number, your bank account and credit card numbers.  There are many precautions that can be taken to reduce or minimize your chances of becoming a victim of identity theft or identity fraud.  These include:

  • Don’t give out personal data over the telephone.
  • Have the USPS hold your mail if you’re going to be traveling.
  • Keep copies of your credit cards in a safe place, so if you’re wallet is stolen, you know exactly which companies to call and will have the account numbers.
  • Maintain careful records of financial documents and changes passwords frequently on websites.
  • Periodically monitor your credit report.

So what if the unthinkable happens and you become a victim of identity theft? Here are some things to remember:

  • Take a deep breath then act immediately to minimize the damage to your personal funds and/or financial accounts, as well as your reputation.
  • Those copies of your credit cards that you’ve had in a safe place?  Call those creditors and report your cards stolen.
  • Report the situation to the FTC (Federal Trade Commission).
  • You may need to contact the USPS, Social Security Administration or IRS, depending on how you think your data was compromised or how severe the breach was.
  • Call the fraud units of the credit reporting bureaus.
  • Consult with an attorney.

If someone is convicted of identity theft or fraud, they can be ordered to pay restitution and fines and could even wind up in jail.  This is a very serious crime and unfortunately is becoming more prevalent in the digital age in which we live.

*image courtesy of / flickr Creative Commons license

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