The Implications Of Identity Theft

Identity Theft Is a Serious Problem

Identity theft is not a "it can never happen to you" situation. If it hasn't happened to you, the idea of having your identity stolen may seem a bit surreal. If you think that it can't happen to you, think again -- everyone is at risk, and the potential implications can be devastating.

The Anatomy Of Identity Theft

Your credit card bill arrives, and it seems larger than normal. You scan the list of purchases and are a bit surprised to see a series of charges in...Arizona? Interesting, considering that you live in Wyoming and haven't traveled to Arizona recently. Obviously, something is wrong, so you quickly contact your credit card company, dispute the charges, have your credit card canceled and a new one issued. Problem solved, right?

Several months later, you decide to apply for a loan to purchase a new car. Your debt load is relatively low, so you figure that you are guaranteed to qualify for the loan.

When your application for credit is rejected, you are understandably shocked, and immediately ask the lender for a copy of your credit report (which you are entitled to if it is the basis of the decision to deny credit). It is littered with over-limit credit accounts, overdue payments, etc - all for credit accounts that you didn't open.

Interestingly enough, they were all opened at about the same time as your credit card information was stolen several months earlier. Coincidence? Definitely not. Your identity has been stolen.

What Should You Have Done?

Because you didn't think that it could happen to you, you didn't take some of the necessary precautions. You didn't sign up for that unnecessary expense of a credit monitoring service that would have alerted you to the newly opened accounts.

You didn't change your passwords regularly. Actually, all of your passwords are relatively similar, so, once an identity thief has your information for one account, it is easy enough to hack the others.

You haven't paid attention to whether you are only making online credit card purchases on reputable websites that offer secure connections. In retrospect, you have left yourself wide open to having your identity stolen.

The Next Steps

All of your finances are at risk. Change your passwords, ask for new account numbers. Dispute your credit record, cancel accounts that have been opened by the identity thief -- you may even need to change your Social Security Number.

You may want to consider hiring a professional to help you make sure all of your bases are covered. Contact law enforcement, but don't expect too much there - identity theft is notoriously difficult to investigate. When all is said and done, remain hyper-vigilant.

Purchase the credit monitoring service and the insurance policy that will protect you and assist you in the future. Once your identity is stolen, you will always be at a greater risk to have it happen again, so keep it in the back of your mind with every financial transaction you make.

You have learned that identity theft CAN happen to you. You have learned a valuable lesson - don't ignore it!

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