Unexplained charges on your credit card. Bills for medical treatments you never received. Wild variations in your credit score.
These are only some of the red flags of identity theft.
If you suspect – or know – that your identity has been stolen, you’re bound to panic. After all, who knows what else cyber criminals are using it for?
Take a breath. Recenter.
It’s an unfortunate situation you’re finding yourself in. But there are steps you can take to limit the damage and prevent identity theft in the future. Here they are.
1 – File an Official Report
To begin with, you need to report that your identity has been stolen. It will help you with any legal and insurance claims.
In the US, you should report scams and identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as well as your local police station.
In addition, some insurance packages cover cybercrime and identity theft. If yours does, file a report with your insurance company immediately.
2 – Call Your Credit Card Companies
Next, it’s crucial to alert your bank and credit card providers to limit potential financial damage, just like you’d do after a stolen wallet.
Let them know that your identity has been compromised and flag all irregular charges on your latest credit card statements.
Identity theft is a common problem and most credit card providers have procedures in place to help customers who are affected.
Usually, they will cancel your card and send you new account information.
3 – Notify Your Medical Insurance Provider
As a next step, let your medical insurance provider know that you think your identity is being misused.
Even if you haven’t seen any suspicious medical bills or the like, it’s important to put your insurer on their guard.
With your social security and insurance numbers, identity thieves can easily commit medical fraud. This includes registering treatments and medication in your name.
By letting your insurer know in advance that you might be affected, they’ll be able to flag any suspicious entries straight away.
4 – Alert People in Your Social Network
If any of your online accounts have been compromised, it’s essential to let people in your circle of friends and family – and any social media contacts – know straight away.
Often, cyber criminals use hijacked accounts to spread malware and steal personal information.
For instance, your Facebook friends could get a message – apparently from you – saying something along the lines of “Hey I just found this really funny article and had to think of you!” followed by a link. If your unsuspecting friends click said link, though, they’ll be targeted by malware such as ransomware or spyware.
Letting people know that your account was hacked – either via email, a different social network, or text – is therefore essential.
5 – Secure Unaffected Accounts
Finally, you need to secure any online accounts of yours that are not yet affected by cyber criminals. Especially if they use the same or similar login credentials as those accounts that have been compromised.
This includes changing your username and password to something more complex. Think upper- and lowercase letters, numbers, and special characters.
In addition, enable two-factor authentication wherever you can. This means that you’ll need a second device – usually your mobile phone – to log into your account. It takes a few extra seconds, but it can prevent 99% of cyberattacks.
When your identity has been hijacked by criminals, it’s hard not to panic. But by immediately taking the steps above, you’ll be able to limit the negative effects.
Once this triage is done, you can embark on a mission to undo the damage and reclaim your identity.