If you or anyone you know has ever experienced a break-in, you know how stressful and upsetting it is. You have to notify the police, deal with the insurance company, possibly make repairs, and you may find yourself considering additional security. Unfortunately, personal loss from a burglary doesn’t always end when the thieves leave the premises. You may need to put some additional security around your identity, too, so that a physical break-in to your home or car doesn’t become a virtual break-in to other parts of your life.
Burglars these days will still take the silver and the family jewels, but they are also going to grab credit cards, checkbooks, and personal papers plus computers, and other electronic devices. Break-ins are risky, so thieves make the most of their ill-gotten gains. In addition to selling the loot, they may go through it for personal information that they can either use themselves to steal your identity or sell to other criminals.
Here are some steps to protect yourself or a family member who’s had a break-in:
- Take a careful inventory of what was taken, paying attention to anything that might have personal information: any kind of electronics, credit cards, social security cards, passports, driver’s licenses or other identity cards, medical insurance cards, personal documents, bank statements, credit card statements, etc.
- Give police a complete list of everything that’s missing, even of the papers that may not seem to have immediate value.
- If anything with personal information was taken, notify the three credit bureaus— Experian, Equifax, and Trans Union—to put a 90-day security alert on your credit reports. That way you will be notified if there’s any suspicious activity.
- If bank statements, ATM or debit cards, or a checkbook were taken, consider opening new accounts and moving your money into those. While credit card fraud is easy to fight, it’s much harder to recover after someone drains your bank account.
- Change passwords on your online accounts, especially if you have ever had your computer remember passwords.
- Check your financial statements carefully and regularly.
If you’ve never experienced a break-in, here are some things you can do now to protect yourself in case it happens in the future:
- Keep important documents and copies of account numbers, passwords, etc. in a safe or safe deposit box.
- Shred old financial statements and other documents promptly.
- Always have password protection on your computer and use touchscreen identification on your mobile devices if you can.
- If your device supports a “FindMyPhone” or other app that lets you locate it or disable it remotely, set that up.
- Use a password manager and don’t have your computer remember passwords.
Break-ins are traumatic, but identity theft can be even worse. In addition to the TV and the silver, you could lose your savings, your medical coverage, your credit rating, and more. Use as much caution to protect your identity in your home as you would to lock your windows and doors and you’ll be in good shape.