Earlier this year I was the victim of identity theft. When I filed my taxes, the IRS said someone else had already filed taxes under my name. I thought to myself, how could that be? Where was the security breach? It turns out this is the latest new craze in identity theft. The criminals don’t have to bother with opening credit cards. All they have to do is file taxes before you do, and the IRS will send them an electronic check within the week. By the time you find out it has happened, the thieves have closed their online bank accounts and all traces to themselves. At this point, you should immediately check you credit reports for anything unusual, and immediately freeze your credit.
If this happens to you, you will still get your tax refund, but you will have to file the old fashioned way by sending in your paper tax forms. And if you are getting a refund, expect the delay in getting your refund to last 6 months or more.
Again…The first thing you should do is protect your credit. The best advice for victims of identity theft – freeze your credit.
Act Quickly and Don’t Panic
Needless to say, you have a mighty sword to stop people from ruining your credit if they have stolen your identity. You can stop them dead in their tracks. I contacted each of the three credit bureaus and placed a freeze on my credit. What’s a credit freeze? A credit freeze will stop anyone, including yourself, from getting a new credit card, or from taking out a loan. You will have to contact all three of the credit bureaus (Experian, Trans Union, and EquiFax) because freezing one does not freeze them all. You can do this online, or you can call them. They will give you a PIN number after you create the freeze. Write this down for safe keeping in case you need to unfreeze it to get a loan later.
I froze my credit online the night I found out about my identity theft. The next day, I called each of the credit bureaus and asked them if there was anything more I could do. Each of them said “Nobody, and I mean nobody, can take out a loan or get a credit card on a frozen account”. You will still need to watch your existing credit card balances and bank statements, because these are still active. And it is very wise to call each one of of your banks and tell them you were the victim of identity theft. They may issue a new credit card.
Even If You Are Not The Victim of Identity Theft – You Still Should Freeze Your Credit
Think about this. Most victims of identity theft don’t find out about the breach until it’s too late. If you freeze your credit before you become a victim, they cannot take out a new loan in your name and ruin your credit. Another bit of good advice, register an electronic PIN with the IRS. If someone has stolen your identity, they cannot file taxes unless they know your electronic PIN.
Seniors Should Especially Freeze Their Credit with the 3 Credit Bureaus
Credit cards are usually opened by younger people, so if they are victims of identity theft, they will find out within a few months. Senior citizens rarely apply for new credit cards, and the theft can go on for much longer before they are caught.
Unfreezing Your Credit
If you need to take out a loan or obtain credit, you can ask the bank what credit bureau they use when they make a loan. You can contact that credit bureau, and give them your secret PIN that you obtained (hopefully your wrote this down when you froze your credit). And after you get your loan, place a freeze back on your id.
Freeze your Credit for the Rest of Your Life
As for me, I have never really used credit cards very often, so I am freezing my credit for the rest of my life. I certainly don’t plan on applying for any new loans. But if my car dies, then that’s another story. I may unfreeze my credit for a few days till I get another one. Hopefully Betsy (my car) will keep on running and I will have nothing to worry about.
What are your experiences with identity theft? What did you do to stop it from spreading?