Four Things to Consider If Your Identity Is Ever Stolen

No one wants it to happen, but all too often it does. You receive an email from one of the companies whose credit cards you use. The message is chilling: someone just made a bunch of purchases using your account number. Your identity has been stolen.

Or maybe you find that a secure website for which you’re a registered user has been accessed using your name and password. There’s confidential data in your account under virtual lock and key, but the key has been turned and your information has been compromised.

Hopefully these hypothetical scenarios won’t happen to you. If you practice smart security habits, they shouldn’t. Unfortunately, cyber criminals are a crafty lot who spend their days in the shadowy recesses of the Internet making life difficult for regular people.

That said, if your online security does become compromised and identity stolen, here are some things you should consider doing.

Identify where the problem might have started.

Try to find out the origin of the hack by going through your emails from the past few or several days. Consider recent links on which you might have clicked and emails to which you might have responded. If so, pull up those messages and look closely at them to determine the source. Also think about websites you might have visited or from which you might have inadvertently—and innocently—downloaded something dangerous.

Notify your credit card companies.

If the problem included unauthorized charges on one or more of your credit cards you’ll want to contact them right away. It’s also possible that they might contact you first if any purchases made were uncharacteristic of your usual activity, like substantial expenditures of numerous purchases. Let them know what you believe happened and ask them to freeze or even close your accounts to ensure that no further problems occur. Also, ask them to place a fraud alert on your accounts for at least 90 days and change all of your passwords. Once you’ve done this, continue to change your passwords on a regular basis. Finally watch your credit report over the next several months to be sure that your credit rating hasn’t been affected.

Determine whether a security breach might have occured before.

As you’re dealing with your current situation, look at the recent past to see if any other problems might have occurred. If you don’t have hard copies of past credit card bills, go online to access old statements and look to see if there are any other charges you don’t recognize. Even if you discover small charges that don’t look familiar it could be criminal activity. Also important is regularly checking the credit card accounts you haven’t used is some time to see if they’ve been accessed.

Contact the police.

Local police departments are active in the fight against cyber crime. Should your identity be compromised or stolen, it’s good to let them know so they can be on the lookout for similar incidents and even help catch the criminals. Often, of course, the criminals aren’t located in the immediate area (and might even be in a different country, which is very common), but the local authorities are often briefed on activity that’s occurring elsewhere and what to look out for. An advantage, by the way, of reporting cyber crime to local authorities is that it will create a paper trail that documents the situation.