Every two seconds, someone in the United States becomes a victim of internet fraud and identity theft. In 2013 alone, there were over 13.1 million cases of identity theft. Many of them were from some kind of online fraud, scam or data breach. Attorney Bradley Corbett explains that examples of internet fraud include “making fraudulent online purchases, computer virus creation and distribution, cyberstalking, and identity theft.”
Each of these kinds of fraud can be devastating on your finances and your credit, so as a consumer, there are some basic steps you should take to prevent yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft in the first place. First, create un-intuitive passwords for all your online accounts and change those passwords on a regular basis. You should also regularly review all of your monthly banking and credit card statements, looking for errors or suspicious activity. It is also necessary to check your credit report at least once per year.
If it is too late to prevent the scam and you discover you have become a victim of online identity theft, here are the steps you should take immediately.
- Contact each of the banks, credit card companies, and financial institutions that you do business with. Make sure they are aware of the situation and have them issue you a new account number or card. Reset your personal identification numbers, and pinpoint any fraudulent activity on your account so that you are not held financially responsible.
- Contact the three credit report agencies: Equifax, Transunion and Experian. Review your credit report vigilantly. Look for any fraudulent accounts or loans that may have been opened in your name. An easy way to get a credit report from all three agencies is to visit annualcreditreport.com, which is authorized by the US government. Be aware of imposter websites that will charge you for your credit report information.
- Request that an Initial Fraud Alert be associated with each of your credit reports. Having one of these will make it difficult for an identity thief to open additional accounts in your name or cause more damage to your overall credit score. A fraud alert will remain active for 90 days. Renew the Initial Fraud Alert every 90 days, as needed.
- Monitor your credit scores and overall credit rating. If you find yourself in need of recovering your credit score, trust your case to VP Credit Rescue.
- Beyond contacting the bank, financial institutions, and the credit reporting agencies, contact the local police and file a police report immediately. You will also need to create an identity theft affidavit by contacting the Federal Trade Commission and then have an identity theft report issued on your behalf in order to protect your financial and legal interests. To begin an identity theft affidavit, visit www.FTCComplaintAssistant.gov and click on the identity theft option.
If you think you are a victim of identity theft you have to take action, and take it quickly. There are many online resources for you if you are or have been a victim of identity theft, including steps for recovery, ways to minimize increased harm to yourself, and how to better prevent it in the future.