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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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Matt Duczeminski

A passionate writer who shares lifestlye tips on Lifehack

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Last Updated on September 2, 2020

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

How to Set Financial Goals and Actually Meet Them

Personal finances can push anyone to the point of extreme anxiety and worry. Easier said than done, planning finances is not an egg meant for everyone’s basket. That’s why most of us are often living pay check to pay check. But did anyone tell you that it is actually not a tough task to meet your financial goals?

In this article, we will explore ways to set financial goals and actually meet them with ease.

4 Steps to Setting Financial Goals

Though setting financial goals might seem to be a daunting task, if one has the will and clarity of thought, it is rather easy. Try using these steps to get you started.

1. Be Clear About the Objectives

Any goal without a clear objective is nothing more than a pipe dream, and this couldn’t be more true for financial matters.

It is often said that savings is nothing but deferred consumption. Therefore, if you are saving today, then you should be crystal clear about what it’s for. It could be anything, including your child’s education, retirement, marriage, that dream vacation, fancy car, etc.

Once the objective is clear, put a monetary value to that objective and the time frame. The important point at this step of goal setting is to list all the objectives that you foresee in the future and put a value to each.

2. Keep Goals Realistic

It’s good to be an optimistic person but being a Pollyanna is not desirable. Similarly, while it might be a good thing to keep your financial goals a bit aggressive, going beyond what you can realistically achieve will definitely hurt your chances of making meaningful progress.

It’s important that you keep your goals realistic, as it will help you stay the course and keep you motivated throughout the journey.

3. Account for Inflation

Ronald Reagan once said: “Inflation is as violent as a mugger, as frightening as an armed robber and as deadly as a hitman.” This quote sums up what inflation could do your financial goals.

Therefore, account for inflation[1] whenever you are putting a monetary value to a financial objective that is far into the future.

For example, if one of your financial goal is your son’s college education, which is 15 years from now, then inflation would increase the monetary burden by more than 50% if inflation is a mere 3%. Always account for this to avoid falling short of your goals.

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4. Short Term Vs Long Term

Just like every calorie is not the same, the approach to achieving every financial goal will not be the same. It’s important to bifurcate goals into short-term and long-term.

As a rule of thumb, any financial goal that is due in next 3 years should be termed as a short-term goal. Any longer duration goals are to be classified as long-term goals. This bifurcation of goals into short-term vs long-term will help in choosing the right investment instrument to achieve them.

By now, you should be ready with your list of financial goals. Now, it’s time to go all out and achieve them.

How to Achieve Your Financial Goals

Whenever we talk about chasing any financial goal, it is usually a two-step process:

  • Ensuring healthy savings
  • Making smart investments

You will need to save enough and invest those savings wisely so that they grow over a period of time to help you achieve goals.

Ensuring Healthy Savings

Self-realization is the best form of realization, and unless you decide what your current financial position is, you aren’t heading anywhere.

This is the focal point from where you start your journey of achieving financial goals.

1. Track Expenses

The first and the foremost thing to be done is to track your spending. Use any of the expense tracking mobile apps to record your expenses. Once you start doing it diligently, you will be surprised by how small expenses add up to a sizable amount.

Also categorize those expenses into different buckets so that you know which bucket is eating most of your pay check. This record keeping will pave the way for cutting down on un-wanted expenses and pumping up your savings rate.

If you’re not sure where to start when tracking expenses, this article may be able to help.

2. Pay Yourself First

Generally, savings come after all the expenses have been taken care of. This is a classic mistake when setting financial goals. We pay ourselves last!

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Ideally, this should be planned upside down. We should be paying ourselves first and then to the world, i.e. we should be taking out the planned saving amount first and manage all the expenses from the rest.

The best way to actually implement this is to put the savings on automatic mode, i.e. money flowing automatically into different financial instruments (mutual funds, retirement accounts, etc) every month.

Taking the automatic route will help release some control and compel us to manage what’s left, increasing the savings rate.

3. Make a Plan and Vow to Stick With It

Learning to create a budget is the best way to get around the uncertainty that financial plans always pose. Decide in advance how spending has to be organized

Nowadays, several money management apps can help you do this automatically.

At first, you may not be able to stick to your plans completely, but don’t let that become a reason why you stop budgeting entirely.

Make use of technology solutions you like. Explore options and alternatives that let you make use of the available wallet options, and choose the one that suits you the most. In time, you will get accustomed to making use of these solutions.

You will find that they make it simpler for you to follow your plan, which would have been difficult otherwise.

4. Make Savings a Habit and Not a Goal

In the book Nudge, authors Richard Thaler and Cass Sunstein advocate that, in order to achieve any goal, it should be broken down into habits since habits are more intuitive for people to adapt to.

Make savings a habit rather than a goal. While it might seem to be counterintuitive to many, there are some deft ways of doing it. For example:

  • Always eat out (if at all) during weekdays rather than weekends. Weekends are more expensive.
  • If you are a travel buff, try to travel during off-season. You’ll spend significantly less.
  • If you go shopping, always look out for coupons and see where can you get the best deal.

The key point is to imbibe the action that results in savings rather than on the savings itself, which is the outcome. Focusing on the outcome will bring out the feeling of sacrifice, which will be harder to sustain over a period of time.

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5. Talk About It

Sticking to the saving schedule (to achieve financial goals) is not an easy journey. There will be many distractions from those who are not aligned with your mission.

Therefore, in order to stay the course, surround yourself with people who are also on the same bandwagon. Daily discussions with them will keep you motivated to move forward.

6. Maintain a Journal

For some people, writing helps a great deal in making sure that they achieve what they plan.

If you are one of them, maintain a proper journal, where you write down your goals and also jot down the extent to which you managed to meet them. This will help you in reviewing how far you have come and which goals you have met.

When you have a written commitment on paper, you are going to feel more energized to follow the plan and stick to it. Moreover, it is going to be a lot easier for you to track your progress.

Making Smart Investments

Savings by themselves don’t take anyone too far. However, savings, when invested wisely, can do wonders.

1. Consult a Financial Advisor

Investment doesn’t come naturally to most of us, so it’s wise to consult a financial advisor.

Talk to him/her about your financial goals and savings, and then seek advice for the best investment instruments to achieve your goals.

2. Choose Your Investment Instrument Wisely

Though your financial advisor will suggest the best investment instruments, it doesn’t hurt to know a bit about the common ones, like a savings account, Roth IRA, and others.

Just like “no one is born a criminal,” no investment instrument is bad or good. It is the application of that instrument that makes all the difference[2].

As a general rule, for all your short-term financial goals, choose an investment instrument that has debt nature, for example fixed deposits, debt mutual funds, etc. The reason for going for debt instruments is that chances of capital loss is less compared to equity instruments.

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3. Compounding Is the Eighth Wonder

Einstein once remarked about compounding:

“Compound interest is the eighth wonder of the world. He who understands it, earns it… He who doesn’t… Pays it.”

Use compound interest when setting financial goals

    Make friends with this wonder kid. The sooner you become friends with it, the quicker you will reach closer to your financial goals.

    Start saving early so that time is on your side to help you bear the fruits of compounding.

    4. Measure, Measure, Measure

    All of us do good when it comes to earning more per month but fail miserably when it comes to measuring the investments and taking stock of how our investments are doing.

    If we don’t measure progress at the right times, we are shooting in the dark. We won’t know if our saving rate is appropriate or not, whether the financial advisor is doing a decent job, or whether we are moving closer to our target.

    Measure everything. If you can’t measure it all yourself, ask your financial advisor to do it for you. But do it!

    The Bottom Line

    Managing your extra money to achieve your short and long-term financial goals

    and live a debt-free life is doable for anyone who is willing to put in the time and effort. Use the tips above to get you started on your path to setting financial goals.

    More Tips on Financial Goals

    Featured photo credit: Micheile Henderson via unsplash.com

    Reference

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