Security · June 17, 2020

Spot and Report Identity Theft Quickly to Limit Its Impact

In today's interconnected, data-driven economy, your relationship with the brands you do business with depends on trust. While companies are more vigilant than ever with their customers' data, it's also important to know how to spot issues with your accounts and report identity theft if you suspect it.


Types of identity fraud

Fraudsters use a range of techniques to attempt identity theft. In phishing attacks, someone sends a message by text, email or phone to trick you into disclosing your personal and financial data, such as credit card or bank account numbers. Meanwhile, hackers try to directly infiltrate companies' data systems and steal the personal information of their customers, including names, addresses, birthdates and Social Security numbers.

If a cybercriminal gets hold of your personal or financial information, they can open new credit accounts in your name, apply for loans without your knowledge or otherwise steal your identity. In the long term, these harmful activities can damage your credit. This could jeopardize your chances of getting a loan, purchasing a car, opening new credit accounts or even securing a job or apartment.

How to tell if your data might be exposed

Despite the persistent threat, there's no single, established system to alert you that your data is at risk. In the case of a major data breach, companies often notify customers whose data the hackers might have stolen—but depending on when the company caught the breach, this might be too little too late.

That's why it's up to you, the consumer, to be vigilant and make sure you haven't fallen victim to a data breach or a phishing attack. Some signs include:

  • Pop-ups while browsing websites that normally don't show them
  • Software icons or browser toolbars you know you didn't install
  • Auto-redirects to unwanted websites
  • Social media messages to friends that you know you didn't send
  • Passwords that no longer work
  • A mouse pointer moving without your control
  • Email notifications for orders you didn't place
  • Unfamiliar charges on your credit card statement

Reporting identity theft

If you discover your information has been compromised, there are several steps you can take to report the identity theft and minimize the damage.

First, reach out to financial institutions where you have accounts, including your bank, existing lenders and credit card companies. Alert them that you suspect your information has been compromised so they can keep a look out for any additional theft. You'll also want to freeze or close any affected accounts and open new ones as soon as possible. Be sure to carefully scan all your financial statements in the following months to look for any suspicious activity.

Next, notify the three major credit bureaus—Experian, Equifax and TransUnion—and ask them to place a fraud alert on your account. This alert stays on your credit report for a year, and it notifies any institution that may extend you credit that you've experienced fraud. Also, credit bureaus provide a free credit report every year—check these for any newly opened accounts you don't recognize.

Finally, file a report with the Federal Trade Commission at IdentityTheft.gov. As part of the reporting process, you'll receive a recovery plan and even prefilled letters and forms. You can use these to file police reports and dispute fraudulent charges.

In addition, consider signing up for credit monitoring, especially if you've been caught up in a major data breach. Targeted companies often offer customers complimentary credit monitoring for up to a year. You can sign up for a paid credit monitoring service yourself. These companies will watch for any suspicious activity and send alerts whenever someone opens a new account using your information.

When it comes to keeping your data secure in a digital world, knowledge is power, and vigilance is your best tool. You can catch signs of identity theft early and limit the extent of the negative impacts if you know what to look for and how to respond quickly and effectively.

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This information is provided for educational purposes only and should not be relied on or interpreted as accounting, financial planning, investment, legal or tax advice. First Citizens Bank (or its affiliates) neither endorses nor guarantees this information, and encourages you to consult a professional for advice applicable to your specific situation.