Attorney John Mlnarik
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What To Do When Someone Else Is You
Your identity is under constant assault. It could be by low-tech means such as stealing your mail or digging personal documents out of your trash. It could be by the more publicized means of cyber-attacks on your personal devices or the storage networks of people with whom you exchange your personal information. Either way, your personal information – your identity – is perpetually at risk. There are some defenses you can implement to slow or deter the attack, but unfortunately, today’s reality is that it isn’t so much a matter of if someone steals your identity, but when. Here are a few tips to help you deter the would-be imposters and what you can do once it inevitably happens to you.
Identity theft can destroy the socio-economic marvel you have worked so hard to become. With just a few pieces of your personal information, identity thieves can do any of the following:
- Generate loans in your name that they have no intent of ever paying back because you are on the hook for default of repayment.
- Transact money from your accounts or create new accounts in your name through which thieves filter money from other types of scams.
- Become a defendant in a criminal or civil case in which they had used your identity to perpetrate a crime or fraud.
- Max out and never make payments on credit cards issued to them based on your identity, leaving you on the hook for default payments and destroying your credit score.
- Conduct electronic business as if they were you.
One of the best things you can do to protect yourself is to remain aware. Awareness is the key to all of your defenses:
- Review your accounts, make sure there are no fraudulent charges and ensure that payment systems (whether credit cards or otherwise) have some level of fraud protection.
- Be aware of what you are putting in your trash. Shred documents that have account numbers and personal information on them.
- Beware of scams that seek to capture your personal information. Do not click on links that ask you to verify account information or social security number. Do not open attachments that come from senders you do not know. Check the domain name associated with those emails and websites that look like they are from senders you know to ensure that they are who they claim to be.
Even though awareness offers some sense of a defense, it is most likely that it will reveal an actual theft. Therefore what you really need to protect yourself against is the damage that could be done once the theft occurs.
- - The first thing you should do is file a police report. In defense of credit issues or fraud perpetrated in your name you may often not be considered a victim of identity theft until you have filed a police report. Some stations let you file an online report, but if not, speak to an officer or deputy in person and let them know the law requires that you file a report. Include all the details of the theft – the company (credit card or retailor) associated with it and how you identified it.
- Report the theft to the creditor. Write a statement describing the particulars of the theft, that you filed a police report and your attempt to report it to the creditor. Make a photocopy of your driver’s license or other state-issued ID. Photocopy or download a recent utility bill with your current address on it. Gather all of these together with a cover letter stating that you are reporting the information as a “Request That Creditor Be Notified Of Identity Theft Under 15 USC Section 1681c-2” and send it to the creditor.
- Send copies of that report to the big three credit bureaus – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
- Consider placing a fraud alert or security freeze on new credit lines in your name. This can be done by contacting one or all of the credit bureaus above and simply asking for it. A fraud alert instructs creditors to follow certain procedures that protect you from identity theft. It may, however, delay your own ability to open lines of credit. A security freeze prohibits a credit bureau from releasing information from your credit report without your prior authorization.
- Having completed all of this self-help work, it may be the case that you still need to contact an attorney. If you are being sued, you must answer the lawsuit (usually within 30 days) or risk having a default judgment entered against you.
We know that it is not always easy being you, but it can be even harder when someone else is trying to be you, too. Hopefully these tips will help you ward off the theft of your identity, and help you combat the effects and mitigate the damage when it happens.