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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 July 10, 2020

The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

The Definitive Guide to Get out of Debt Fast (and Forever)

Debt can feel crushing, like a weight that is always weighing you down. Looking at those numbers, it can feel as if you’ll never get out from under it. However, if you really want to learn how to get out of debt, it is possible with a great deal of focus and self-control.

Getting out of debt isn’t impossible. Like any big goal, all that it takes is an action plan to identify where you are and creating a plan to zero out your debt.

Identifying All of Your Debts

The first part of paying off your debt is getting a complete picture of what you owe. When you have everything written out in front of you, it makes it much easier to create an action plan. Depending on how much you owe, it might also help you realize it’s not as bad you might have originally thought.

Here’s how you can get started identifying your debts:

1. Own Your Debt

Before you start identifying all of your debts, take a moment to process that you have debt but want to get out of it.

Forgive yourself for any past mistakes, missed payments, or overspending. It might be painful to accept how much debt you have at first, but you must own it.

2. Make a Debt Tracker

It’s astonishing how few people ever created a tracker to understand their total debts. Most likely, it comes from not wanting to accept the guilt of having debt, but, if avoided, it can make it nearly impossible to get out of debt.

Open up a new Google or Microsoft Excel sheet and list out all of your debts. Start with the name of the creditor, interest rates, total balance, loan term length (if any), and the minimum amount due each payment. This will include student loans, credit cards, and any other type of debt owed.

3. Get Your Debt Number

Once you’ve made your debt tracker and taken the other steps, identify your total payoff number. This is crucial, as you will have a starting point and a clear goal that you are trying to achieve.

Prioritizing Your Debts

All debt is not created equal. It’s imperative to understand that there are different types of debt.

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1. Understand Bad and Good Debts

Bad debts are usually paying for things you want instead of always need. While there might be some emergencies that max out your credit cards, often times it’s excessive spending[1].

There are three main types of bad debt:

  • Credit Card Debt: The average American household owes over $16,000 in credit card debt!
  • Auto Loan Debt: According to CNBC , the average auto loan in the US is $30,032!
  • Consumer Loan Debt: Consumer loan debt isn’t as common as credit card and auto loan debt, but it’s still considered bad as interest rates are usually between 10-28%.

Good debt is identified as investments in your future. Here are three common types of good debt:

  • Student Loan Debt
  • Mortgage Loan
  • Business Loans

2. Decide Which Debt to Pay off First

Once you know each type of debt and their interest rates, you can begin to pay off debt quickly.

Focus on paying off bad debt first, regardless of if it is a credit card or auto loan. Start by paying off the loan with the highest interest rate first.

If you have several credit cards with different interest rates, you want to focus on the one with a higher APR. You will actually save more money by eliminating the card with the highest interest rate.

3. Don’t Pay the Minimum Amount

Paying the minimum amount digs you into a hole as interest rates will offset your payment. Even a small amount more than the minimum can help you pay off debt much faster.

Removing Obstacles to Pay off Debt Quickly

Creating a debt tracker and prioritizing a plan is simple, but avoiding temptation can be difficult.

1. Set a Reminder to Track Your Debt

“If you can’t measure it you can’t manage it.” -Peter Drucker

It’s so important to track your debt to ensure that you get it paid off quickly. Similar to working out and measuring your results, you need to track your debt constantly. Start with a weekly reminder, where you sign on and log your updated number. Did you increase, decrease, or stay the same?

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Regularly tracking your student loan balance can be incredibly motivating, as well. You will get a huge confidence boost each time you see your total debt amount decreases.

Set weekly and monthly goals so you can have short term wins and keep the momentum going.

2. Hide Your Credit Cards

If your biggest debt is credit cards, you need to eliminate temptation and remove them from your wallet.

Some people have gone to extreme measures by freezing their credit cards. Why? This would create an ice block around your card, which would require you to chip away at it slowly. This will give you time to think if it’s the best idea to buy that thing you’re about to buy.

3. Automate Everything

Willpower can be a huge downfall to paying off your debt. By automating your bills each month, you will ensure that willpower isn’t involved.

4. Plan Ahead

Getting out of debt will require some sacrifices, but with enough planning, you can make it work.

For example, if you know that you have a friend’s birthday or family dinner coming up, plan ahead for the costs. Whether you need to cut back on spending the week before, pick up a side job, or meet them after dinner, do what is needed.

5. Live Cheaply

The only way to get out of debt is to make some sacrifices on your spending habits. Find ways to save money each month so you can apply that amount to your outstanding debts. Here are some ways to save money each month:

  • Live with roommates
  • Cook dinners and prepare lunches for work instead of eating out
  • Cut cable and choose Netflix or Amazon Prime
  • Take public transit or bike to work

Finding the Lowest Interest Rates

The higher your interest rates, the harder (and longer) it will take you to pay off any debt.

If possible, you want to find ways to lower your interest rates to help get out of debt quickly. Here’s how you can get started:

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1. Maintain a High Credit Score

Your credit score will have a large impact on your ability to refinance your loans and receive a lower interest rate. If you have a low credit score, it’s unlikely you will be able to refinance your loans. Use these credit tips to increase and maintain an excellent score:

  • Never miss a payment
  • Don’t exceed 30% of your credit limit
  • Don’t sign up for more than one card at once
  • Limit hard inquires, like auto-loans and new credit cards
  • Monitor frequently with free credit-tracking software

2. Find Balance Transfer Offers

Start by opening a free account on credit.com. Credit.com offers you the chance to open a free account and see what type of balance transfer offers you can receive. Some of your existing credit cards might already have 0% or lower APR balance transfer offers available.

Contact each of your credit card providers to ask about lowering your rate for a one-time balance transfer offer[2].

If you do take advantage of this option, make sure that you use a balance transfer and not a cash advance. Cash advances have a ton of high interest fees (15-25%, depending on your credit card) and will only compound your debt problem.

How to Get Rid of Debt Forever

Setting up a plan, removing temptations, and getting the lowest interest rates is the first step to get out of debt.

1. Keep Monitoring and Adjusting

Once you have a plan, don’t get comfortable. Track your debt payoff plan and make the necessary adjustments when needed.

Monitor your credit scores with a free site like CreditKarma. The higher your credit score climbs, the more likely you will be to secure a new, lower-interest loan.

2. Earn More Money

There are only so many ways to save money. Instead of clipping another coupon or making sacrifices for your morning coffee, find ways to earn more money!

Think about it…it is much easier to find ways to earn an extra $1,000 per month than find $1,000 to cut from your budget.

Here are some examples of ways to earn more money:

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Talk to Your Boss

Have a conversation with your boss about current salary and/or commission rates. If you’re not satisfied or want a change, don’t be afraid to look around at other positions. Some of them might even have a student loan debt reimbursement plan!

Start a Side Hustle

This could be coaching students on the weekends, driving for Uber, or taking paid online surveys. There are tons of ways to make money outside your 9-5. Now that you have a clear plan to pay off your debts, you’ll be more motivated than ever to figure out creative new ways to earn money.

Build an Online Business

There are so many websites and blogs that earn money from ads, affiliates, and other online products. Find your niche and get started.

3. Celebrate Your Wins

As you progress in your debt payoff journey, don’t forget to celebrate your wins. You need to always reward yourself for the hard work and discipline that is required to get out of debt.

While you shouldn’t celebrate so big that it increases debt, make sure to factor in little rewards to keep you motivated.

4. Set New Financial Goals

Eventually, with a plan and these steps, you can rid yourself of your debt. Once you do, make sure to celebrate your monumental achievement, but don’t stop there.

Now, you can focus on acquiring wealth and increasing your net worth. Set new financial goals so you have a new target to aim toward. Here’s how to set financial goals and actually meet them.

These could be anything now that you are debt free! Think about where you want to travel, buying your first home, or saving for your future retirement. Just like before, make sure that your goals are specific, measurable, and achievable.

Conclusion

Congrats, you can now set a plan in motion to finally pay off your debt quickly (and hopefully forever)!

Remember, if you want to get out of debt quickly, it’s not always easy. Just like any big goal, there will be sacrifices, challenges, and problems to overcome.

More Tips on Getting out of Debt

Featured photo credit: Pepi Stojanovski via unsplash.com

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