Financial blogger Kem Washington shares how she was able to bounce back from the personal devastation of identity theft.
Identity theft takes place when a person's identifying information is stolen and used to obtain unauthorized loans, lines of credit, products or services. It's one of the fastest-growing crimes in America. According to Experian, more than 9 million Americans are victims of identity theft each year.
People who think they can't fall victim to identity theft should think again. According to Fox Business, in 2013, someone fell victim to identity theft every two seconds.
Like many, I thought it wouldn't happen to me. I was wrong. After college graduation, I was anxious to buy a new car. When I submitted my application to the loan officer, I was shocked to learn that I was being declined. After obtaining a copy of my credit report, I discovered that my identity had been stolen.
How It Happened
After I moved out of an apartment complex, a few pieces of mail were sent to my previous address. This mail was used to steal my identity and secure services in my name. As a matter of fact, there were unauthorized utilities obtained at the very same property long after my departure. Disappointed and feeling vulnerable in a way I didn't know I could, I knew I had to get my finances back on track somehow.
First, I obtained my credit report from each of the three major credit reporting agencies. After a careful review of my reports, I collected contact information for each fraudulent account. Then, I made contact with each credit provider to request the removal of the unauthorized accounts.
After successfully removing the fraudulent accounts — which is a process in itself — I placed a fraud alert on my credit reports. A fraud alert requires creditors to take certain steps to verify that you're the one actually applying for new credit in your name. While an initial fraud alert remains in effect for only 90 days, at the time I considered requesting a credit freeze, which prevents creditors from accessing a credit report until further notice — whenever you choose to lift the freeze.
Finally, I filed a police report and completed an Identification Theft Complaint with the FTC. Filing these reports provided me with further proof of the identity theft in case I would need to dispute additional unauthorized accounts that had not yet hit my credit reports.
After being a victim of identity theft, I now take proactive steps to protect my identity. Throughout the year, I monitor my credit reports and check on my accounts. I also shred important financial documents to reduce the risk of identity theft from dumpster diving. While I don't think I can ever entirely eliminate the risk, I believe I'm taking the right steps to prevent being victimized again.
Note: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the opinion or position of Experian.