You never realize how many online accounts you have, until you have to shut down an email account you’ve had for 20 years. Once a victim of identity theft, always a victim.
Think about it, if you need to change your password, you click “forgot password” and a reset link is sent to your email, only in this case, the email has been shut down.
Now imagine having to change your user name, which in most cases, is your email. The only way I can describe the task is to say it’s akin to singing the National Anthem while standing on your head and juggling three very sharp knives all at the same time.
Here are the facts, no matter what anyone tells you, if you’re a victim of identity theft, it will be YOU, and not the criminals, who will suffer – for months! Even if you are able to have the fraudulent transactions completely expunged and your credit history restored, your credit will still be affected, which will naturally translate into higher mortgage rates, higher auto and homeowner insurance rates and higher car loan/lease agreement rates.
According to Carrie Kerskie, president of Griffon Force a company specializing in identity theft and restoration, “Everyone has heard of the ‘dark web,’ but a criminal doesn’t need to dig too deep to buy a person’s name, address, date of birth and Social Security number, and all for less than three dollars. People should assume they’ve already been compromised and take the appropriate steps to minimize the risk of their information being used fraudulently.”
I cannot stress the importance of having as many security measures in place as possible. To help others avoid what I went through, here are some basic things you can do, which won’t necessarily prevent fraud, but should make you a little less vulnerable:
- PASSWORDS & USER NAMES:It’s mind-boggling how many people still use their date of birth, the last four of their Social or their numerical street address as a password, making it easy for a criminal to take-over their identity.
- MULTI-FACTOR VERIFICATION:Set-up multi-factor verification on all accounts including: bank and credit cards, utilities, cable, Internet and both mobile and landline phones. Yes, it’s an extra step, but one I am more than willing to take.
- TRAVEL NOTIFICATIONS:No matter where you go or for how long, set-up travel notifications with the credit card companies and bank. I’m convinced that had my “old” credit company not done away with this invaluable service I wouldn’t have been a victim of account take-over to such an unfathomable degree.
- TRANSACTION ALERTS:Set-up alerts on your bank and utility accounts, ATM/debit cards and credit cards. You can tailor these alerts to your specific needs. As a victim of account take-over, I’ve set-up alerts on all purchases exceeding ten dollars, as well as on all overseas transactions and card-not-present transactions.
- ACCOUNT MONITORING:In addition to transaction alerts, set-up online account monitoring for your bank accounts and credit cards and check your balances everyday! If your phone has face recognition capabilities, I strongly suggest taking advantage of this unique feature, which will make accessing your accounts easier.
- PURCHASE AN IDENTITY THEFT PROTECTION PLAN:The two or three hundred dollars a year you’ll spend having a protection plan, such as Identity Force or LifeLock, in place will offset the time, money and energy you would have to spend if your identity was stolen.
- CREDIT REPORTS:You are allowed one FREE credit report once a year from each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). Be diligent in pulling these reports and reviewing them carefully. annualcreditreport.com
- CREDIT FREEZES:I’ve said it before and will say it again, there’s no excuse for not placing a FREE security freeze on all three of the major credit-reporting bureaus. Yes, it’s a little inconvenient, especially if you’re trying to get a new credit card, but in this day and age, you’re crazy not to have a freeze in place.
- PUBLIC Wi-Fi & VPN: Try to avoid the temptation to use an un-secured wireless network but if you must, be sure to have a Virtual Privacy Network (VPN) activated on your devices.
If you are unfortunate enough to have your identity stolen, file a police report as soon as possible and immediately contact the credit bureaus to place a 7-year fraud alert on your accounts. In addition to contacting your financial advisor, bank and credit card companies, and insurance and mortgage companies, you should also contact the IRS and Social Security Administration to inform them your identity has been compromised.