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While the increasingly digital world we live in has provided us with many advantages, it's also created a whole new way for misconducts to be committed.

Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in America, with millions of new incidents occurring each year.

The statistics—not to mention the possible outcomes—are frightening, and even staggering, but there are ways to assess this danger and protect yourself against it.

Identity Theft Red Flags

Some studies show that acts of identity theft are increasingly being perpetrated by friends or family members of the victims, but there are several other instances that should put you on high alert for the practice.

You may be at risk of identity theft if you recently:

  • Received a notice that your personal information was lost in a data breach.
  • Lost your wallet or your credit card.
  • Learned an online account of yours was hacked.
  • Used a debit or credit card at an institution that was recently hacked.

While these are far from the only red flags that you may be at risk of identity theft, it's a good idea to keep a close eye on your accounts after any of these events have occurred.

Dealing With Identity Theft

When accounts are opened or purchases are made in your name, but without your knowledge, you've likely become another victim of identity theft. It's an upsetting problem to have, but often times a fixable one.

Once you notice the signs of identity theft, you should:

  • Learn all the facts about the damages.
    • i.e. How many accounts were opened? How many purchases were made? What amount of money was spent?
  • Contact your bank, credit card company, or any other financial institution(s) involved to inform them of the fraudulent dealings.
  • Place a fraud alert with one of the major credit bureaus:
  • Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to file an official complaint.
  • If the case is serious, contact the local police in the community where the identity theft took place to file a report.

Identity Theft and the DMV

If you suspect that your name or Social Security number are being used to obtain a fraudulent driver's license or state ID, contact your state DMV.

If your state uses your Social Security number as your license or ID number, you can request to substitute another number.

Identity Theft Protection

Once you've dealt with the immediate aftermath of identity theft, there are further actions to take in order to restore and secure your information.

  • Close any account that has been tampered with or opened without your knowledge.
    • Ask each business to send you a letter confirming:
      • The account isn't yours.
      • You're not liable for the charges.
      • The information was removed from your credit report.
  • Have the charges on the fraudulent accounts removed.
  • Change your online passwords for your bank and credit card accounts.
  • Change your PIN for your debit card.
  • Consider requesting an extended fraud alert or credit freeze.

Identity Theft Prevention

Being a victim of identity theft can be emotionally taxing, but there are some precautions that can help lower the chances of being singled out again.

Be very wary of where and to whom you give personal information. If online, make sure it's a website you trust. If over the phone, make sure it's not only to a company you trust, but that you get the name of exactly to whom you're giving the information.

You should also consider taking the following steps:

  • Carry on you only what's essential. If you only need one credit card for the store, don't bring any more. And unless it's absolutely necessary, stay away from carrying your:
    • Social Security card.
    • Birth certificate.
    • Passport.
  • Pick up new checks at the bank, rather than having them sent to your home.
    • You can also ask your bank to not print your address or Social Security number on your personal checks.
  • Make sure your passwords and PINs are random and difficult to predict.
  • Keep a close eye on your credit report.
    • Consider signing up for a credit monitoring service, which will alert you to changes in your report.
  • Be wary of what you throw away. Shred documents containing sensitive information, such as:
    • Receipts.
    • Credit card offers.
    • Bank statements.
    • Returned checks.

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