Identity theft happens when someone obtains and uses your name, credit card, work information, or identity documents to pretend to be you. Criminals usually steal this information by hacking your online accounts or through phishing scams targeted at you or services that you use. Simple pickpocketing could also be a part of identity theft, as well as stolen mail. The end result is the same — financial gain for the criminals, your tarnished reputation, or both.
Steps to take if your identity was stolen
Recognizing identity theft early and responding quickly is crucial for minimizing its impact.
Alert your bank or credit card companies immediately
They will guide you through the process of securing your accounts and can place temporary freezes or restrictions on your cards and accounts to prevent further transactions.
Change your passwords and enable two-factor authentication
First, reset the passwords for your online accounts that are most sensitive and can be used to impersonate you, like email, banking, and the main social media platforms. Once you’re done with the other steps, go back and change the passwords to all your other accounts.
Continue monitoring your financial statements and accounts
Just because you changed your passwords and froze your cards, it doesn’t mean you didn’t forget one of them. Another thing to keep in mind is that if a criminal stole your information once, they might steal it again, especially if they’ve installed malware on your device.
Look for suspicious entries related to you. Someone could be using your stolen identity on social media, forums, or marketplaces.
Notify law enforcement
Once you have the basic evidence gathered, file a police report. Even if the identity theft happened online, reporting it to your local police department is crucial. This way, there’s an official record, which can also be useful if financial institutions or other agencies require proof of the crime. Some countries even have dedicated government agencies you can contact in case your identity was stolen.
Set up a fraud alert or credit freeze
Fraud alerts make creditors take extra steps to verify it’s really you asking for that loan or a new credit card. It’s especially useful when you suspect your social security number may be stolen. Additionally, you can request a full credit freeze, which bans you from taking any kind of loan for a selected period of time. But, think this through – even though it will ensure no one can take out loans in your name, you won’t be able to instantly lift the ban when you need to because there’s a transitional period you’d have to wait out.
Replace stolen IDs and other documents
Social security cards, driver’s licenses, passports, health insurance cards, and identity cards can all be changed. Contact all the institutions responsible for issuing new documents, have your identity theft report at hand, and order new IDs.
Scan your devices for malware
Malicious software like keyloggers or remote access trojans can get on your device in a number of ways and then silently steal your most sensitive data. If your identity was stolen using malware, most of your efforts to fix it will be futile if you don’t remove it from your device. Get a reputable premium antivirus software and run full scans on all your devices.
How to prevent identity theft
An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. While the internet might feel like a minefield of potential threats, taking proactive steps can drastically reduce the chance of someone stealing your identity. Here are some of them:
- Use strong, unique passwords for every account. Pay special attention to your email, banking, and social media accounts that can be used to impersonate you. Make them long and complicated, and use a password manager to help you remember them.
- Once you’re sure all your passwords are bulletproof, set up two-factor authentication. Even if your password is leaked or stolen, you will still have that second layer of protection.
- Protect your personal documents like passports, tax forms, or any other identifying documents. Keep them in a safe place in your home, and shred or burn anything that has your personal information — don’t just throw them in the bin.
- Download your bank’s dedicated app and use it to monitor your bank account. It will notify you about any changes, so there’s a smaller chance you’ll miss an unauthorized money withdrawal or payment.
- Limit how much you share about yourself online. Social media is designed for oversharing, but the less information is available about you online, the harder it would be for criminals to piece together your identity.
- Go over the privacy settings on all your online accounts and make sure only friends that you have approved can see the information you share about yourself.
- Regularly update your software and operating system — outdated apps might have vulnerabilities and bugs that hackers can exploit.
- Don’t use unsecured public Wi-Fi networks without a VPN. Encrypt your internet connection both at home and on the go, so you can be sure no one is able to snoop on the data you send and receive.
- Use identity theft protection services to alert you if any of your personal information becomes publicly available. NordVPN also offers a similar feature — our Dark Web Monitor notifies you if your credentials end up on the dark web.
- Use NordVPN’s Threat Protection to stop you from downloading malware. It scans the files you download, and if malicious software is detected, the file is immediately deleted before it can do any damage to your device.