Snatch Thief on Motorbike by Gan Khoon Lay from the Noun Project

In the past, we have written about how to protect your financial accounts and provided cybersecurity best practices. But all the cybersecurity in the world will not protect you from a thief stealing your wallet, and sometimes financial security breaches occur that are completely out of your control. Remember the Target breach in 2013, the University of Maryland breach in 2014, and the Federal Office of Personnel Management breach in 2015? These things unfortunately occur every year, and while you may not be able to prevent them, you can minimize and reverse any potential damage when you know how to respond quickly.

First, limit the immediate damage.

Alert your bank, credit card provider and your team at Halpern Financial that theft or fraud has occurred. These entities will place restrictions on your accounts, close compromised accounts, and order replacement cards as necessary. Keep a written record of the actions you take and make notes on the information provided to you—this will come in handy if you need to file a police report, or if you have any issues down the line resolving problems with your bank or credit card.

At Halpern Financial we have security procedures in place to deal with these emergencies. If a client alerts us that their financial information has been compromised, we are able to put a fraud alert on our clients’ investment accounts so that no transfers in or out can occur until the alert is lifted.

Next, take steps to prevent future damage.

In addition to replacing documents like driver’s licenses or passports, you should be concerned that a thief could use your personal information to open new lines of credit, which can negatively impact your credit score. At the very least, you should put a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report and consider putting a credit freeze on your credit report. 

To place a fraud alert:

An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days, and means that anyone trying to open new accounts on your behalf (even if it’s you opening a legitimate account) will undergo extended identity verification steps.

A credit freeze:

When you have a credit freeze on your credit report, no one can access it, even for legitimate reasons like a potential landlord or employer checking your creditworthiness. A credit freeze remains in place until you ask the credit bureau to lift it, and there is a cost associated with lifting the freeze.

To place a fraud alert or credit freeze, contact one of the three main credit bureaus.

When you contact one credit agency, the others will also put a fraud alert on your credit report. Listen carefully to the information provided to you and take notes—they will come in handy later.

 

If you believe your social security number has been compromised:

Report the theft to the IRS at http://www.irs.gov/uac/Identity-Protection or 1-800-908-4490. That will prevent fraudulent tax returns in your name. If it’s too late for that, and you find that a fraudulent tax return has already been filed (for example, if your e-filed return is rejected because of a duplicate filing), you can attach Form 14039 to your tax return and mail according to the instructions on the form. The IRS also has a full guide to battling identity theft here and they have specialists available to help if your identity has been stolen.

Report to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC tracks identity theft cases and helps both consumers and law enforcement.

Keep records.

Even if your case is simple, keeping detailed records shows proof of your situation.  Keep copies of:

  • All correspondence or forms you send.
  • A list of anyone you talk to, what you were told, and the date of the conversation.
  • Bank and credit card statements for fraudulent charges
  • Originals of supporting documentation, like police reports and letters to and from creditors; share copies only.  

Finally, clean up the damage.

 

"Cleaning" by parkjisun from the Noun Project

There are a number of problems that identity theft can cause, and some of these knots can be complicated to untangle. However, a few common goals of all identity theft victims should be:

  • To close unauthorized accounts opened in your name
  • To clear yourself of responsibility for any fraudulent debts or even crimes
  • To correct your credit report and remove fraudulent account history
  • To find out as much information as possible that you can then share with the police and the FTC.

Close accounts and reverse fraudulent charges.

If you do find that you need to correct an error, you may have to go back and forth with customer service. You will need to be your own advocate and never assume that the problem has been taken care of until you have proof. Always have a clear objective for your call (what questions you need answered and what outcomes you are looking to achieve) and keep notes. If the issue is not resolved to your satisfaction, do not be shy about escalating the matter to a supervisor. (Here’s how.) Remain calm and professional but assertive about making this situation right! This is your personal information and your life.

Correct your credit report.

This is where all of the records you have kept will come in handy. You will need to send a dispute letter by certified mail with a return receipt so that you have evidence of what the credit bureau actually received. The dispute letter should explain each item in the credit report you dispute and provide copies of supporting documents. You can find more detail on how to correct these errors at the FTC website.

File a police report.

You'll need to file a police report if you want to extend your fraud alert for seven years and correct records. Make sure to provide the police with copies of your credit reports and communications with creditors.

Monitor for unusual activity.

Many companies offer ongoing credit monitoring services for a fee. Some banks also offer the ability to check your credit score anytime. If your bank does not do this and you prefer not to pay for credit monitoring, you can also do this yourself. Each of the 3 main credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) allows you to request a free credit report once a year, but you do not have to request all of them at once (though you can). You could stagger them throughout the year to get a sense of whether your report is improving over time. Also make sure to review your bank and credit card statements for any fraudulent transactions.

Picking up the pieces after identity theft can be complicated and frustrating. However at Halpern Financial we are here to help you and help this process go a little smoother by providing the information you need to get your life back!

IMPORTANT DISCLOSURE INFORMATION

 Please remember that past performance may not be indicative of future results. Different types of investments involve varying degrees of risk, and there can be no assurance that the future performance of any specific investment, investment strategy, or product (including the investments and/or investment strategies recommended or undertaken by Halpern Financial, Inc.), or any non-investment related content, made reference to directly or indirectly in this blog will be profitable, equal any corresponding indicated historical performance level(s), be suitable for your portfolio or individual situation, or prove successful. Due to various factors, including changing market conditions and/or applicable laws, the content may no longer be reflective of current opinions or positions. Moreover, you should not assume that any discussion or information contained in this blog serves as the receipt of, or as a substitute for, personalized investment advice from Halpern Financial, Inc. To the extent that a reader has any questions regarding the applicability of any specific issue discussed above to his/her individual situation, he/she is encouraged to consult with the professional advisor of his/her choosing. Halpern Financial, Inc. is neither a law firm nor a certified public accounting firm and no portion of the blog content should be construed as legal or accounting advice. A copy of the Halpern Financial, Inc.’s current written disclosure statement discussing our advisory services and fees is available for review upon request.