If you’ve suffered identity theft, you’re certainly not alone in your struggle. This sort of theft is a rampant issue. An estimated 15 million U.S. citizens fall victim to identity theft each year. In 2020, 49 million people experienced identity theft and lost a collective $13 billion.
When identity theft happens to you, it’s natural to feel taken advantage of and anxious it will occur again. The good news is there are steps you can take to protect yourself from thieves stealing from you, even if your personal information has already been breached.
How Does Identity Theft Occur?
When identity theft occurs, a thief acquires your personal information, such as your bank account, credit card, or social security numbers, then withdraws your assets, opens new credit accounts, loans, or makes purchases in your name. These purchases can range from small retail purchases to considerable ones, such as cars or homes.
Identity thieves may snatch your data through the following methods:
- Company databases – It’s not uncommon for thieves to procure consumers’ personal information by hacking company databases then selling this info on the dark web.
- Phishing emails and scam sites – You may have accidentally entered your personal information through a link in a fraudulent email or on a scam site.
- Skimming – A skimmer is a hidden device that thieves install illegally on ATMs, gas pumps, and point-of-sale terminals. Thieves use skimmers to steal your pin number when you use your debit card for payment transactions. They can also install hidden cameras, so it’s advisable to cover the pin pad as you enter your pin.
What Should I Do When My Identity Is Stolen in West Virginia?
There are certain steps you should take after your identity is stolen.
- Contact the three major credit bureaus – You should place fraud alerts with all credit bureaus. It’s also a good idea to place security freezes on your credit that can only be lifted with a pin that each bureau will provide to you. When security freezes are in place, thieves can’t open new accounts or cards in your name. The three major credit bureaus and their respective phone numbers are:
- Equifax: 1-888-548-7878
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Transunion: 1-800-916-8800
You can temporarily unfreeze your credit in the future, if necessary—for instance, if you wish to apply for a credit card, loan, or to live in an apartment.
- Contact the IRS – Alert the IRS that your identity has been stolen. The IRS will provide you with a pin to include the next time you file your taxes. This confidential pin serves to prevent thieves from attempting to file tax returns in your name.
- Fill out an identity theft report with the FTC – Visit the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft website to report details regarding your identity theft.
- File a police report – It’s wise to file a police report as it may assist law enforcement in catching the person who stole your identity. You should bring the following items with you to the police station when filing a report for your identity theft case:
- A copy of the identity theft report you filed with the FTC
- Any evidence you have of the theft (such as bills you received for purchases you didn’t make)
- A valid ID
- Proof of your address
- Contact any businesses involved – If the thief stole merchandise in your name at specific stores, contact those stores to alert them of the fraud. You can also ask if they have any information that may be helpful for your case, such as surveillance footage available of the thief making purchases in your name.
- Close affected cards or loans – If fraudulent charges were made with a certain credit card, it’s advisable you close that card and ask to receive a new one. If the thief opened loans in your name, call the financial institutions that issued the loans to shut them down.
What Steps Can I Take to Protect Myself from Identity Theft?
There are several steps you can take to protect yourself as you move forward after having your identity stolen.
- Invest in identity theft insurance – When you purchase an identity theft insurance policy, the insurer agrees to monitor your credit and bank accounts, alert you of suspected fraudulent activity in your name and on the dark web, and partially reimburse you for costs associated with restoring your identity and credit. Another benefit of identity theft insurance is you can check your credit score through the insurance at any point, either online or using an app, without having to pay a fee for a credit report. Identity theft insurance may be included in another insurance policy you already have, such as renters or homeowners insurance. Additionally, some employers offer identity theft insurance as part of a benefits package.
- Install a VPN – A VPN, or Virtual Private Network, plugs you into a private network that protects your personal information. You can turn on your VPN when you make purchases online to prevent thieves from stealing your credit card information.
- Update your phone regularly – You should ensure that you have enough storage space on your phone to accommodate regular updates, as updates serve as a primary defense against hackers.
- Set up two-factor authentication (2FA) – Many online accounts, such as email domains, offer the option of setting up 2FA as added protection against thieves attempting to log in to your accounts to steal your information.
- Be strategic when paying for gas – It’s recommended to pump gas at a fuel pump close to the store and within the gas station attendant’s view, as these pumps are less likely to contain skimmers. You can opt to pay for your gas with the attendant rather than at the pump. You can also run your debit card as credit to avoid entering a pin, which can be captured by skimmers.
Will Having My Identity Stolen Affect My Credit Score?
Identity theft can negatively affect your credit score in certain circumstances. For example, if a thief opens a credit card in your name, maxes it out, and doesn’t pay the balance, this can negatively impact your credit score.
Therefore, it’s important to monitor your accounts as often as possible so you can catch the fraudulent activity early on and report it to the appropriate agencies and authorities.
The good news is you can rebuild your credit score in time by placing fraud alerts with the credit bureaus and closing out affected cards or loan accounts. Picking up the pieces after having your identity stolen is a lengthy process and involves a significant amount of time on the phone and filing paperwork.
How an Attorney Can Help You When Your Identity Is Stolen in West Virginia
A skilled attorney can help you in various ways if your identity is stolen.
- Educate you regarding your legal options – An attorney well-versed in West Virginia laws regarding identity theft can review your case and explain your legal options to you. In West Virginia, the crime of identity theft is considered a felony carrying the potential punishment of a maximum five-year prison sentence and a $1,000 fine.
- Guide you in gathering evidence – Having your identity stolen is a distressing, overwhelming experience that unfortunately affects many people. An attorney can advise you regarding the steps you should take to protect yourself and collect evidence to build your case.
- Litigate your case – An attorney can take your case to trial to fight for you to recover damages on account of all you’ve lost and suffered due to identity theft.
Call Us Today
At Katz, Kantor, Stonestreet, & Buckner, our attorneys have been a trusted resource for individuals in West Virginia for over 88 years. We prioritize familiarizing ourselves with our clients and their cases and explaining their legal options to them. We’re eager to meet you and are available in the evenings and on weekends.
Call us today at (304) 713-2014 or submit your information here to schedule your free consultation.