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What to Do When Your Identity is Stolen

What to Do When Your Identity is Stolen

You’ve seen the commercials warning you to keep your information safe. You’ve heard horror stories of families facing year-long battles with creditors, banks, and insurance companies. But you never thought identity theft would be something you’d have to worry about. That is, until your credit card was declined when you went to pay for your lunch.

The truth is, identity theft can happen to anyone. If a thief’s intent on stealing your identity, he’ll do whatever he can to get his way. Of course, it’s those who are careless with their information and data who place themselves at the highest risk. If someone really wants to steal your identity, the least you can do is make them work extra hard to do so.

At any rate, if you happen to become a victim of identity theft, all is not lost. You’ll definitely face an uphill battle in the coming months – and possibly years – but there are steps you can take to ensure your name and reputation are cleared. The sooner you take action, the sooner you’ll be able to go back to real life.

Take Immediate Action

If your identity is stolen, wasting time worrying will only exacerbate the problem. Though you may still be dazed and confused after realizing you’ve been victimized, you can at least begin the process of rebuilding your identity by taking the following steps.

Document Everything

From the moment you realize you’re a victim of identity theft, you need to keep a running record of every step you take toward fixing the issue. Keep a log of every call you make, letter or email you send, and form you fill out. Note the date and time each was received or sent out, as well as the content of each instance.

By doing so, you have proof of the moment you realized something was wrong, and also that you are actively trying to fix the situation. You also keep a record of who you’ve contacted and have worked with while trying to solve the problem – in case there is a mixup on the other end.

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Contact Credit Reporting Companies

Once you’re prepared to document every conversation you have regarding your identity from here on out, contact a credit reporting company – Equifax, Experion, or TransUnion – to request that a fraud alert claim be placed on your account. Doing so will flag your account so companies know there is an issue that is currently being dealt with in regard to your credit score.

Request a Credit Report

Although you only need to contact one of the three companies to request a fraud alert claim, you should request a credit report from each of them. Although major damage has already been done, checking your credit report for ID theft will help you pinpoint when the security breach occurred, and will also keep you informed of any further issues with your credit score.

Create Official Reports

Once you have all the information you could possibly get from your credit report, you’ll need to file formal complaints. The first complaint to file is a report to the FTC. In this report, you’ll need to provide as much information as possible regarding the identity theft. Make a copy of this, of course – you’ll be using it immediately.

Next, file a police report at your local station. This will open the door for a formal investigation by law enforcement on your behalf. Together, these documents form a solid identity theft report, which should be sent to any banks, credit card companies, and businesses you work with.

Taking Care of Business

The main purpose of stealing one’s identity is, of course, to use their credit cards and other information to make fraudulent purchases. Once you have your claims in, you’ll need to track down exactly what the thief did with your information, and inform these companies of the issue.

Contact Companies You Work With

Most of us nowadays have multiple bank accounts, credit cards, and other open accounts involving our hard-earned cash. Unfortunately, when someone steals your identity, you’ll have to contact each and every one of these businesses to make sure they know what’s going on.

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When reaching out to these companies, ask to speak with someone in the fraud detection department. Workers in these areas should be able to notice discrepancies between your normal course of action and when you were victimized. Provide these companies with the identity theft report you previously created so they have solid documentation to work with.

Change Your Passwords

You undoubtedly have dozens of online accounts that store bits and pieces of your identity. Whether it’s your social media accounts, bank accounts, or credit card accounts, they all give away something about you. Be sure to change every single one of these passwords.

And make sure the new ones aren’t in any way similar to the previous ones. Your best bet is to make them a convoluted series of characters rather than your favorite TV show or the year your sister was born. Again: Don’t make it easy for thieves to get into your accounts.

Check For New Accounts

Since the thief has all of your information, there’s nothing stopping him from opening accounts in your name and running up the bill.

Use your credit reports to see if this has happened. If so, contact each business’ fraud department and be ready to provide them with a copy of your identity theft report. Hopefully, if you catch it quickly, they should be able to close out your account with little to no hassle.

Request Records from Businesses

While contacting each company to report the theft of your identity, request that they send you a record of your past activity with them. Some companies may be reluctant to do so. If this occurs, contact the police department where you filed the initial report and give them permission to contact these companies on your behalf. If need be, the police can subpoena this information formally.

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Dealing with Fraudulent Bankruptcy Claims

Thieves may have filed bankruptcy on your behalf, which will present major issues for you moving forward. Check with the US Trustee office, again providing them with all of the information you’ve collected thus far. Unfortunately, if a fraudulent bankruptcy claim has been filed, you may have to hire an experienced attorney to work through the issue on your behalf.

Other Outstanding Issues

There are a lot of other issues that may come up while you fight this seemingly uphill battle, but hopefully you won’t have to deal with the entire gauntlet. Your student loans, medical bills, and utility bills are all at risk of being used as means to nefarious ends. Keep track of them throughout the process of rebuilding your identity.

Reduce Your Future Risk

Once you start to get your life back on track, you’ll want to keep it that way for good. After what you’ve been through, you’ll probably be extra careful moving forward as it is. Make sure you take extra care in the following areas.

Keep Track of Credit Reports

Victims of identity theft have much freer access to their credit reports. Take advantage of this; check your credit score at least a few times a year as time goes on. Even if you do end up having to pay a small fee, it’ll be completely worth it to ensure you don’t have to go through the same nightmare again.

Keep Track of Important Documents

Even though you’ll probably want to shred the pages and pages of documentation regarding your identity theft case, keep them. You’ll likely need to provide them to any company you open accounts with in the future. And, if anything, they’ll serve as a reminder to keep your information safe from now on.

Protect Your Electronics

Make sure you use antivirus and antispyware programs on computers which you use to access important information. Spending a hundred bucks or so upfront will almost certainly save you money and time in the long run. Don’t ever use public Wi-Fi, period. Hackers are quite adept at accessing other users’ information through these networks, no matter how protected you think you are.

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When disposing of electronics, remember: Just because you delete a file doesn’t mean it’s gone. Find a program that will completely erase your hard drive to the point of no return. This may mean hiring an expert to help you out. But, once again: spending a little up front can save you a ton moving forward.

Conclusion

It’s a sad truth that criminals will do whatever they can to make their lives a little easier. Unfortunately, this often involves using technology against us – even technology that could be used to unite us.

If you become a victim of identity theft, you face an uphill battle. But that doesn’t mean you can’t come out of it stronger, more knowledgeable, and more wary than before.

Featured photo credit: Credit Card Fraud / Simon Cunningham / Flickr via farm8.staticflickr.com

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Published on November 20, 2018

The Best Ways to Save Money Even Impulsive Spenders Can Get Behind

The Best Ways to Save Money Even Impulsive Spenders Can Get Behind

The truth is, there are many “money saving guides” online, but most don’t cover the root issue for not saving.

Once I’d discovered a few key factors that allowed me to save 10k in one year, I realized why most articles couldn’t help me. The problem is that even with the right strategies you can still fail to save money. You need to have the right systems in place and the right mindset.

In this guide, I’ll cover the best ways to save money — practical yet powerful steps you can take to start saving more. It won’t be easy but with hard work, I’m confident you’ll be able to save more money–even if you’re an impulsive spender.

Why Your Past Prevents You from Saving Money

Are you constantly thinking about your financial mistakes?

If so, these thoughts are holding you back from saving.

I get it, you wish you could go back in time to avoid your financial downfalls. But dwelling over your past will only rob you from your future. Instead, reflect on your mistakes and ask yourself what lessons you can learn from them.

It wasn’t easy for me to accept that I had accumulated thousands of dollars in credit card debt. Once I did, I started heading in the right direction. Embrace your past failures and use them as an opportunity to set new financial goals.

For example, after accepting that you’re thousands of dollars in debt create a plan to be debt free in a year or two. This way when you’ll be at peace even when you get negative thoughts about your finances. Now you can focus more time on saving and less on your past financial mistakes.

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How to Effortlessly Track Your Spending

Stop manually tracking your spending.

Leverage powerful analytic tools such as Personal Capital and these money management apps to do the work for you. This tool has worked for me and has kept me motivated to why I’m saving in the first place. Once you login to your Personal Capital dashboard, you’re able to view your net worth.

When I’d first signed up with Personal Capital, I had a negative net worth, but this motivated me to save more. With this tool, you can also view your spending patterns, expenses, and how much money you’re saving.

Use your net worth as your north star to saving more. Whenever you experience financial setbacks, view how far you’ve come along. Saving money is only half the battle, being consistent is the other half.

The Truth on Why You Keep Failing

Saving money isn’t sexy. If it was, wouldn’t everyone be doing it?

Some people are natural savers, but most are impulsive spenders. Instead of denying that you’re an impulsive spender, embrace it.

Don’t try to save 60 to 70% of your income if this means you’ll live a miserable life. Saving money isn’t a race but a marathon. You’re saving for retirement and for large purchases.

If you’re currently having a hard time saving, start spending more money on nice things. This may sound counterintuitive but hear me out. Wouldn’t it be better to save $200 each month for 12 months instead of $500 for 3 months?

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Most people run into trouble because they create budgets that set them up for failure. This system won’t work for those who are frugal, but chances are they don’t need help saving. This system is for those who can’t save money and need to be rewarded for their hard work.

Only because you’re buying nice things doesn’t mean that you’ll save less. Here are some rules you should have in place:

  1. Save more than 50% of your available money (after expenses)
  2. Only buy nice things after saving
  3. Automate your savings with automatic bank transfers

These are the same rules that helped me save thousands each year while buying the latest iPhone. Focus only on items that are important to you. Remember, you can afford anything but not everything.

How to Foolproof Yourself out of Debt

Personal finance is a game. On one end, you’re earning money; and on the to other, you’re saving. But what ends up counting in the end isn’t how much you earn but how much you save. Research shows that about 60% of Americans spend more than they save.[1]

So how can you separate yourself from the 60%?

By not accumulating more debt. This way you’ll have more money to save and avoid having more financial obligations. A great way to stop accumulating debt is using cash to pay for all your transactions.

This will be challenging, depending on how reliant you are with your credit card, but it’s worth the effort. Not only will you stop accruing debt, but you’ll also be more conscious with what you buy.

For example, you’ll think twice about purchasing a new $200 headphone despite having the cash to buy them. According to a poll conducted by The CreditCards.com, 5 out of 6 Americans are impulsive spenders.[2]

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Telling yourself that you’ll have the discipline to not buy things won’t cut it. This is equal to having junk food in your fridge while trying to eat healthy–it’s only a matter of time before you slip. By using cash to make your purchases, you’ll spend less and save more.

A Proven Formula to Skyrocket Your Savings

Having proven systems in place to help you save more is important, but they’re not the best way to save money.

You can search for dozens of ways to save money, but there’ll always be a limit. Instead of spending the majority of your effort saving, look for ways to increase your income. The truth is that once you have the right systems in place, saving is easy.

What’s challenging is earning more money. There are many routes you can take to achieve this. For example, you can work long and hard at your current job to earn a raise. But there’s one problem–you’re depending on someone else to give you a raise.

Your company will have to have the budget, and you’ll have to know how to toot your own horn to get this raise. This isn’t to say that earning a raise is impossible, but things are better when you’re in control right? That’s why building a side-hustle is the best way to increase your income.

Think of your side-hustle as a part-time job doing something you enjoy. You can sell items on eBay for a profit, or design websites for small businesses. Building a side-hustle will be on the hardest things you’ll do, be too stubborn to quit.

During the early stages, you won’t be making money and that’s okay. Since you already have a source of income, you won’t be dependent on your side-hustle to pay for your expenses. Depending on how much time you invest in your side-hustle, it can one day replace your current income.

Whatever route you take, focus more on earning and save as much as possible. You have more control than you give yourself credit for.

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Transform Yourself into a Saving Money Machine

Saving money isn’t complicated but it’s one of the hardest things you’ll do.

By learning from your mistakes and rewarding yourself after saving you’ll save more. What would you do with an extra $200 or $500 each month? To some, this is life-changing money that can improve the quality of their lives.

The truth is saving money is an art. Save too much and you’ll quit, but save too little and you’ll pay for the consequences in the future. Saving money takes effort and having the right systems in place.

Imagine if you’d started saving an extra $100 this next month? Or, saved $20K in one year? Although it’s hard to imagine, this can be your reality if you follow the principles covered in this guide.

Take a moment to brainstorm which goals you’d be able to reach if you had extra money each month. Use these goals as motivation to help you stay on track on your journey to saving more. If I was able to save thousands of dollars with little guidance, imagine what you’ll be able to do.

What are you waiting for? Go and start saving money, the sky is your limit.

Featured photo credit: rawpixel via unsplash.com

Reference

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