Hacks for When Your Identity is Hacked
I was almost done cooking lunch when the phone call rang.
"Hello, this is Denise from Lending Tree calling to confirm your mortgage application."
I politely told her I didn't apply for a mortgage and to please remove me from her list. Three minutes later, another came in.
"Hi, this is Tom from Quicken Loans calling to confirm some information with you."
A pattern was forming. Alarm bells rang in my head. I decided to dig deeper.
"Could you tell me the name on the application please?" Tom proceeded to read me all of my information except for a my email address, which was unfamiliar. I pulled up my bank app, and nothing seemed off. Then, I pulled up my business accounts, and multiple fraudulent purchase attempts had been made. That was it. My identity had been stolen, and the wheels were in motion. I had to get ahead of it.
Over the next four hours, I sought advice from parents, mentors and friends in finance and law enforcement. Below are the steps I compiled to help anyone else who goes through this unfortunate experience.
1) Sit. Breath. Meditate.
You're about to be challenged by long waits on support hotlines, compliance employees, and governmental processes. You are going to have unexpected things come up that shake your confidence and make you feel helpless. You need to sit down, feet flat on the floor, hands on your thighs, and breath. Meditate through how this could have happened. Was your wallet stolen? Does anyone know passwords to your bank, credit or email accounts? Where did you last see your vital documents? Think through everything you can before you begin.
2) Get Started
If you have copies of your Drivers License, Passport, credit/debit cards, go ahead and grab them. If not, make a note to make copies of everything when you get your new ones in the mail. Select the appropriate options on what kind of theft occurred (credit, savings, loans, insurance, etc). As it leads you through creating the FTC Identity Theft Report and Recovery Plan, be as thorough as possible.
- Fill out the IdentityTheft.gov form, print report
- Use their recommendations to inform next steps
- Call companies where you know fraud occurred, collect information
- IndentityTheft.Gov - Epicenter for information about what happened, what to do, and how to proceed
- 1-877-438-4338 - To speak to a government representative trained to help in this situation
- These resources have pre-filled letters and forms to send to credit bureaus, businesses and debt collectors. They will also give you a Personal Recovery Plan from the Federal Trade Commission.
3) Call the Bank
Wherever you bank for personal and business needs to know what happened. In some cases, they will freeze your accounts, cancel your debit card, or add a note to your account to flag unusual purchases. This is precisely what using a bank for your money management is for - to help in situations like this. In my experience, they helped tremendously, and they sent new cards and peace of mind my way promptly.
- Tell them what you learned from calling companies involved in fraud
- Close new accounts opened in your name
- Remove bogus charges from your accounts
4) Call Credit Providers
You need to cancel any stolen credit cards, and you need to freeze your credit. To cancel the cards, call your bank or credit card company. To freeze your credit, use one of the big three credit reporters, Experian, Equifax, or Transunion. Here is a guide for this part of the process, which is an important one that could trip you up for the rest of your life.
- Cancel/freeze your cards and place a fraud alert on your account
- Request a credit report (free annual report) and freeze your credit
- Correct your credit report, informed by your bank and companies where fraud occured
Fraud Victim Assistance Department
PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022-2000
PO Box 105069
Atlanta, Ga 30348-5069
PO Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
5) Report stolen Government Documents
Someone could be using your drivers license or passport to pose as you to travel, apply for a loan, or any number of other sketchy things. In my case, my passport was stolen, so I called to the US Department of State, who cancelled my active passport and instructed me on how to apply for another. Visit travel.state.gov to do this.
- Take inventory of vital documents that were stolen or compromised
- Consult copies of documents to inform appropriate agencies of identity theft
- Order new documents and make copies of them upon receipt
6) Collect all the information you can
In my case, my bank could tell me the addresses where fraudulent purchases were attempted, and some of them had security cameras. Also, the loans my thief applied for had some of her information on the applications, which they shared with me (email address, physical address, name). Sometimes these people slip up, and that can help inform how to get your stuff back, or a police report.
7) File a Police Report
Never show up to an address and take justice into your own hands. Never set up a hand-off without law enforcement informed and present. The police are here to help in situations like this. Call your local precinct and/or the jurisdiction that oversees where the crime happened. They will learn your objective (justice or simply getting your stuff back), and they will assist in that objective. Provide all details as clearly and directly as possible for the police report, and let them do their thing. Help as much as you can, and check in when appropriate. In some cases, this can mean getting your stolen elements back and serving justice to the thief.
This photo of me getting body slammed on the beach in Cuba is the closest I could get to an image of how getting my identity stolen felt.
I hope you never go through something like this, but if you do, get right on fixing it. Every minute matters, but calm yourself down and prepare yourself for what is to come first. This list is not exhaustive, but it can be used as a tool to help inform things you need to be thinking about and doing. If I can help in any way, let me know, and if I missed anything, please mention it in the comments below so I can amend this guide as time goes on.