When you are the victim of identity theft, it can have an adverse impact on your entire life and in particular your finances. It can cause you to incur significant debt that you never accumulated or prevent you from renting an apartment or qualifying for a loan because of discrepancies on your credit report.
It can take years for you to correct the damage that was inflicted on your report, not to mention the impact it can have on your reputation. That is why it is important that you recognize the signs of identity theft early in the process. The sooner you spot them, the easier it will be to minimize any damage.
When you determine that you have been victimized by identity theft, it is imperative that you hire a lawyer who can address the situation. The lawyer will represent you and advocate on your behalf with the credit reporting agencies and any others to clear your name.
What Is Identity Theft?
In identity theft, a person will use your name, address, Social Security number (SSN), bank or credit card account number, or other identifying information to open accounts or commit fraud. This will take place without your knowledge or your consent. Many use their expertise in computers to hack into databases that contain personal information to steal a person’s identity.
Others may have access to personal information through their job. There are more basic and traditional ways to confiscate information by stealing your wallet, credit card, or even going through your mail that contains personal information.
To help prevent identity theft, you should secure your personal information and use trusted websites and other online portals if you share your personal information. Never give out your personal information to anyone on the phone if you cannot verify where they are calling from.
How Do I Know if My Identity Has Been Stolen?
The best way to know if your identity has been stolen is to be on the lookout for any clues that indicate it has happened. There are several signs that indicate you might have been victimized by identity theft. Those signs are:
- Unexpected statements: You might begin to receive credit card or bank statements that you are not expecting. These could be signs that someone has used your name to open an account or take out a credit card.
- Denied credit: You may be under the impression that you have a good credit report, yet you are denied credit. It could be an indication that your credit score has dropped through no fault of your own.
- Unknown debt collectors reaching out: You may receive unsolicited phone calls from debt collectors over accounts you do not recognize. As with the unknown bank statements, these could be an indication that someone is using your information to open accounts and rack up bills.
- Lack of statements: If you start noticing that your bills, credit card statements, or bank statements are no longer arriving, it could be a sign that someone has either stolen your mail or applied for a change of address for your financial information. It is best to contact the company directly to discover what happened and address it.
- Inaccurate report: Monitor your credit report to see if there are any transactions you do not recognize. They could be signs of someone else using your name to make purchases.
- Unusual charges: Similar to your credit report, also keep a close eye on your credit card statement to determine if there are any unauthorized purchases on there as well. If so, you should address them quickly.
- Credit card company calls you: Often banks and credit card companies will detect purchases in unusual places on your card and call you to verify that you made those purchases. If you did not, they will act accordingly; however, it could be an indication of a larger problem.
- Social Security misuse: Check your Social Security benefits statement to verify that no one has been using your Social Security number to obtain government benefits or to secure a job.
- Strange medical bills: Someone might have stolen your identity to obtain medical treatment. If you start to receive medical bills for procedures that you did not have, this could be a sign of identity theft.
- False tax report: If a person filed a tax form using your tax information, they did it to steal your refund. If you attempt to file your taxes and cannot because someone else already has, someone might have stolen your identity.
There are other obvious signs that there is a problem, such as your utilities or cell phone service being shut off even though you are in good standing with them all. If you learn that a warrant has been issued for your arrest, this is another sign that someone has been tampering with your identity, and you will need to address the matter before the problem gets worse for you.
What Are the Consequences of Identity Theft?
Identity theft can have a severe financial impact on you and your family and ruin your reputation and credit history. That type of damage could haunt you for the rest of your life.
Many consequences of identity theft involve a fraudster using your information to make major purchases for which you will be financially responsible. For instance, a criminal could use your credit and debit card and go on a spending spree and buy expensive items such as computers, televisions, and other consumer products. They can then easily sell those items for a profit, leaving you to pick up the tab.
Along those lines, an identity thief can use your personal information such as your name, date of birth, and Social Security number to open a new credit card. They can then make all the purchases while you will be responsible for paying it. Another way they can use your own credit card against you is if they manage to change your mailing address on the card. They can then run up charges, and the fact that you are not receiving your bills right away means it will take you longer to discover the problems.
Other consequences of identity theft include:
- Unauthorized auto loans taken out in your name.
- Establish phone or wireless service in your name.
- Counterfeit checks or debit cards and drain your bank account.
- A bank account opened in your name with bad checks written on that account.
- Filing for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they incurred, or to avoid eviction.
- Give your name to the police during an arrest. This means if they fail to show up in court, an arrest warrant could be issued in your name.
What Should I Do if I Am the Victim of Identity Theft?
There is no question that once you learn that your identity might have been stolen, you should act right away. There are several steps you should take to minimize the damage to yourself and attempt to catch the individual who did it. Among the things to do include the following:
- File a claim: If you have identity theft protection, you should file a claim about this incident. There are specific companies that handle this protection, but many companies offer it through their insurance plans.
- Notify companies: Once you find a discrepancy on your credit card statement, immediately notify the company. They can put a hold on the charge and conduct an internal investigation. They can all issue you a new credit card to keep your account secure.
- Notify the FTC: You can also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They compile information on identity theft cases. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal charges, it works with those enforcement authorities that do.
- Call the police: The police have the authority to file criminal charges against an individual who is stealing identities. Although the police are limited in pursuing criminals who are overseas, they can track down anyone who is local. Once you file a police report, it is good to keep a copy of it for your records.
- Place a fraud alert on your report: This is a precaution for yourself, as it remains on your credit report for a year. If another company checks your credit report, they will see the alert that tells them that your personal identity might have been compromised.
- Freeze your account: Contact the three credit reporting agencies and have them freeze your credit report. This blocks anyone from gaining access to your credit reports, and the credit reporting agencies will not share it with anyone.
You should also speak with a lawyer as soon as possible who will help you ensure that you do everything you can to minimize the impact on you and your family’s life.
Philadelphia Consumer Protection Lawyers at Francis Mailman Soumilas, P.C. Advocate for Victims of Identity Theft
If your identity has been stolen and you do not know what you should do, the Philadelphia consumer protection lawyers at Francis Mailman Soumilas, P.C. can help you through the process. We will represent you if you need to fight with credit reporting agencies to have discrepancies removed or if your name is wrongly associated with outstanding debts. Call us at 215-735-8600 or contact us online today to schedule a free consultation. With offices located in Philadelphia, Chicago, New York, and San Francisco, we serve clients nationwide.