The unfortunate reality for millions of Americans every year is that the sensitive personal or financial information they hold so dear is exposed in hacking attacks and other incidents that can lead to identity theft. However, those who find themselves in such a position may be able to do as much as possible to protect themselves from these problems in a number of ways.
Protecting oneself from the threat of identity theft in the wake of an incident that exposed personal or financial information isn't always easy, but it is vital to maintaining a good credit score. Criminals who gain access to consumers' data can use it to do all kinds of damage, in a large number of ways, and as such the steps those affected by such incidents have to take to make sure they're as protected as possible should be equally comprehensive.
Where to start
The first thing consumers can do to make sure they haven't been compromised by an identity theft effort is to routinely keep track of their financial accounts. This should include checking bank account balances online as often as possible to ensure that no transactions are being made on debit cards or withdrawals being made from savings without their knowledge. This is also true of credit card accounts, but there is a slight difference: In general, credit card lenders will give consumers a bit more time — usually a month or two, depending on the lender and account — to report potentially fraudulent action, which means that it might only require checking statements at the end of each billing cycle line by line to determine whether such an account has been compromised. However, with checking and savings accounts, the window to report potential fraud is usually only a few days, and as such checking balances that frequently is required to fully protect oneself.
If these types of accounts are compromised, though, it could cause significant financial distress if the problem goes unreported. That's because borrowers will be responsible for the fraudulent balances racked up and transactions completed by the criminals, and that can significantly increase their debt load to unmanageable levels. The same is true of checking and savings accounts which, when depleted, can cause massive problems for consumers who are just trying to make ends meet.
Unfortunately for borrowers, though, those account types are the far easier ones to deal with when one's identity has been compromised. The far more difficult issues to remediate tend to arise when criminals gain access to personal information — like consumers' names, addresses, Social Security numbers, dates of birth, and so forth — and use that data to open accounts their victims do not know about it.
Why that's a bigger issue
The problem with accounts borrowers don't know about is how long they might go without being detected at all, particularly if borrowers aren't especially vigilant. While checking one's credit report is the best way to determine whether such accounts have been unfairly opened in a borrower's name, many don't take the time to do so more than once per year. However, federal law allows borrowers to order copies of their credit reports for free from each of the three major bureaus once per year, and borrowers who want to make sure they aren't affected by this type of identity theft should certainly take the time to do so as regularly as possible. Consumers who discover this data has been exposed may also want to contact the credit bureaus and put alerts on their profiles so that no one can open new accounts in their names without them knowing.
By doing so, they may be able to spot any unfair markings that are marring their scores and when these are discovered, they should be reported to the credit bureau that issued the document immediately. This will start an investigation process, which in turn can allow consumers to get out from under these issues. Unfortunately, once this information is exposed, consumers can likely never be assured that it will be fully protected again, meaning that they should try to keep closer tabs on their standings than they had been before.
It might also be wise for people who believe they have been victimized by this type of identity theft to not only order copies of their credit reports and check them closely for these unfair markings, but also get in touch with a credit repair law firm. Doing so might be able to help borrowers potentially hit by the crime to deal with the myriad issues that can arise as a result in a more comprehensive and efficient way. This, in turn, will help to get them back to where they deserve to be more quickly than the borrowers might have been able to achieve on their own.