Imagine this: You apply for a car loan and are refused, even though you pay every bill on time and have no debt. Next, you’re deluged with calls from collection agencies for companies you’ve never heard of. Then you get a summons to appear in court for a traffic accident you were never involved in. All of these things can happen if someone steals your identity, and it’s more common than you think. In a 2016 survey by the American Institute of CPAs, one in five people said they had been victims of identity theft.
So what happens if you do find your identity has been misused? If the thieves have gone beyond simple credit card fraud, you can be in for a long, time-consuming, and often frustrating process to recover your identity. Here are just a few of the things you’ll need to handle if your identity is stolen:
- Notifying law enforcement right away: identity theft is common, and your local police won’t have resources to go after the thieves, but they will issue you a case number to use while dealing with banks and other companies where your identity may have been misused.
- Convincing financial institutions: Identity thieves often take out loans or lease property using stolen identities. The lenders or leasers don’t want to lose money, so they tend to treat someone claiming identity theft as a deadbeat trying to get out of a debt. Same with collections agencies. Don’t be surprised if it takes many calls and letters to get charges in your name cancelled.
- Cleaning up your medical record: If someone uses your medical identity, their medical information can be in your records, potentially putting your health at risk. But because of medical privacy laws: once a healthcare provider knows the information in the record is not yours, they are required to keep it private. That means you can’t review it to say what’s right and what’s wrong.
- Monitoring your credit report: New problems can keep cropping up as criminals find new ways to misuse your identity. You’ll have to freeze your credit report and stay on top of it to prevent more problems.
The Federal Trade Commission says it takes an average of 18 months and 200 hours of phone calls, correspondence, and investigative work for identity theft victims to recover. Until your identity is recovered, it can affect your ability to get a job, a car, a home, or medical care.
In another post, we advised people to sign up for any free credit monitoring or identity theft recovery services offered in a breach notification letter. But with identity theft on the rise, you might also consider getting your own identity protection coverage just as you think about health, auto, or homeowner’s insurance. If you consider the cost, lost time, and frustration of 200 hours of work, identity theft recovery is more costly than a fender bender and a lot more stressful. In another post, we’ll look at identity protection services like MyIDCare and what they can do to help stop identity thieves and get your life back on track.