Imagine waking up one day and discovering someone purchased 4 new iPhone Xs using your cellular account and used a photo ID with your name and personal information to pick them up from a brick and mortar store. Then imagine the nightmare of trying to figure out what to do next. As you may have learned from the title of this post, I recently had this experience. I hope by sharing what I learned it will help others navigate the system far easier than it was for me should they, too, find they’re a victim. I also hope that by sharing the proactive measures I wish I would’ve previously known, it will help others prevent identity theft from happening to them.
What to do If you’re a victim
If you discover you’ve become a victim of identity theft, the first thing you need to do is take a deep breath, put on comfortable clothes, and find something to occupy your time while you’re on hold. I added up the total hours I spent on hold, because I had nothing better to do during that time, and my total hold time was 5 hours and 48 minutes. That doesn’t include the time I spent talking to a person or trying to get through to a live person. Granted, much of that time was spent on hold with my cellular provider, but it’s important to be prepared to wait. You’ll lose your mind if you don’t.
If you need to call a credit card company, cellular provider, or whomever you contact about the fraud, take notes. A lot of notes. Get the person’s name you’re speaking to and their ID number if they have one. Also ask if they have a direct call back number or extension. If you need to call back, this will help decrease your wait time. If they have a case number, make sure you write it down and ask if they can send you a follow-up email to document your call. You also need to request any and all documentation they have be emailed to you for your records. They won’t offer it to you. You need to ask. These things may seem like common sense, but if you’re in a bit of a panic, due to having your identity stolen, they may not be things you think about doing while you’re on the phone. Quick example, I didn’t ask for a copy of a receipt for the 4 iPhones that were purchased in my name and later discovered I needed it to file a police report. It took me several hours to be connected to someone who 1) had that information and 2) was willing to help.
Get a copy of your credit report and carefully review it. I used Equifax since I’m an Equifax customer, which is also probably how my identity was stolen. Most of the major credit bureaus offer a free credit report. Do this while you’re sitting on hold. It will help you pass the time.
Gather all of your information and file a police report. You will need proof of identity theft before you can file a report. Learn this now before you go to your local police station and try filing one. Trust me. They aren’t going to take your word for it. I learned this the hard way. Even if it didn’t result in a momentary theft, police documentation will help protect you in the future and help you obtain free services from the credit reporting bureaus.
The next thing you need to do is contact all of the credit reporting bureaus and put a security freeze on your credit report. This will block all lenders, and employers and landlords, from accessing your credit report to process a credit application. You need to temporarily lift the freeze in order to obtain credit or allow someone to perform a credit check. It’s a hassle, but if all of your personal information is stolen, the only added layer of security you have that bad guys don’t is your PIN. Write them all down and lock them in a safe.
Here’s the contact information for the three major credit bureaus.
- Equifax: (800) 349-9960 or https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
If you’re using the online method, make sure you have access to a PDF viewer. Your PIN will display in a one-time PDF file and it will not be emailed.
- TransUnion: (888) 909-8872 or https://www.transunion.com/credit-freeze/place-credit-freeze
- Experian: (888) 397-3742 (automated system) or (800) 493-1058 to speak to a live person. Ignore the prompt to enter your social security number and enter 30 to be connected to a live person. Be prepared to wait. When I did this, I was told my wait time may be greater than 2 hours. Or https://www.experian.com/freeze/center.html
Note that a security freeze may be free or may require a police report in order for it to be a free service.
If you believe your social security number was stolen, don’t try calling Social Security or the Social Security Inspector General to report it, even if the police tell you to do this. I wasted another hour and fifteen minutes of my life sitting on hold before I found neither could help me. I was finally directed to this site https://www.identitytheft.gov to file a report. Make sure you have all of your notes handy. You’ll need to enter the names of the individuals you spoke to, case numbers, phone numbers, etc.
Stay vigilant. Monitor all of your financial accounts and change all of your passwords regularly. A security freeze doesn’t guarantee you’re protected. As much as I hate to recommend it, you may want to consider credit monitoring. I hate to recommend it because I believe this proactive step I took is what led to my information being compromised. But that hasn’t stopped me from discontinuing my credit monitoring service. I discovered my identity theft because I lost my cell service. Had that not happened, the alert I received around the same time notifying me that a creditor accessed my credit report would’ve alerted me. If you take this route, subscribe to their alerts for both email and text. It may seem redundant, but I never received the text alert because my cell service was cut off.
Proactive measures you can take
If you haven’t been a victim of fraud, there are steps you can take to help protect your identity. All of the three major credit bureaus offer a credit lock. The difference between a security freeze and a credit lock is a security freeze requires a PIN and verification of identity to lift it. A credit lock is designed to be an online method and a password is all that’s required to lift the lock. It’s not as secure, but includes the convenience of lifting a credit freeze from your smartphone. If you are a victim and don’t want the hassle of a security freeze, you can use a credit lock option as well. Anything is better than nothing.
Like a security freeze, a credit lock may be free or may require a police report in order for it to be a free service. Experian, for example, charges about $20/month for a credit lock. You may find a security freeze is a more inexpensive option if you don’t have a police report.
Here’s are the credit lock links for the three major credit bureaus.
- Equifax: https://lockandalert.equifax.com/
- Experian: https://www.experian.com/lp/creditlock.htm
- TransUnion: https://www.trueidentity.com/
If you don’t have a police report, don’t let the $10 or so for each lock and unlock sway you. Trust me, it’s pennies compared to dealing with the hassle after your identity has been stolen. To date, I’ve lost approximately 63 hours and 25 minutes of my life dealing with my identity theft between the phone calls, hold time, filing a police report, and research. Like my hold time, I know this because I have nothing else better to do while sitting on hold. Then again, I did finish writing this while I’m once again sitting on hold. I’m now at 7 hours, 38 minutes and counting…