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Article: GWAAR Precautions You Can Take if You Think Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Stolen Identity

Table of Contents
  1. Stolen Identity

By the GWAAR Legal Services Team

Many of us learn that our credit card information or Social Security number has been stolen after-the- fact when we get an alert from our credit card company about suspicious purchases or we go to apply for something and a red flag is raised. However, some people might have a hunch that their information has been compromised before actual proof of theft has occurred.

For instance, we recently learned of a woman who gave her credit card information and Social Security number to someone whom she thought was a customer service representative from a television shopping network. At the end of the call, she realized that she had never before been asked for her Social Security number when making purchases, and the whole conversation didn’t sit well with her. She immediately called family members who were able to help her take precautionary steps to avoid further vulnerability to her financial accounts and personal information.

If something like this happens to you, there are steps you can take. Here are some things you can do if you suspect personal information has been stolen but do not yet have concrete proof of a theft:

Contact Your Financial Institutions. Call each credit card company and bank where you do financial business to report a suspected theft. Each company will have a different method of monitoring suspicious activity. You should also keep a record for yourself of the institutions you called, the time/date, and the name of the person with whom you spoke.

Place a Fraud Alert. The next level of protection is to call one of the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian, or Trans Union) and ask for a fraud alert to be placed. Whichever company you call is required to notify the other two companies, but you should still confirm with the company you call that they will follow up with the other two companies. A “fraud alert” means that if anyone tries to open an account using your information, the business must contact you to verify your identity first. Placing a fraud alert is free and stays on your credit report for 90 days. After 90 days, you can renew the alert if you want.

Monitor Your Financial Accounts. If you weren’t already in the habit of checking your financial accounts, you should be now. Whether you check online or by phone, now is the time to make sure nothing unusual appears on your accounts. This includes checking your credit report regularly. Everyone can get one free copy per year of their credit report at

Contact the IRS (Internal Revenue Service). Often times scammers use your Social Security number to file taxes for you in order to receive your tax refund, if you are owed one. Other times scammers use your Social Security number to apply for jobs, and then report their income under your name. This can cause problems when you go to file your taxes because it will appear as if you haven’t reported all income.

File an Online Complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3). Rather than report suspected identity theft to a local law enforcement agency, the Social Security Administration (SSA) recommends that you file an online complaint with IC3 at IC3 will review and investigate your complaint and then send it to the law enforcement or regulatory agency that has the power to follow through with your claim. You should print a copy of your complaint so that you have a record of filing such a complaint.

Other Suggestions

If you help people navigate these issues, it’s important that they do not feel guilty about giving away their information and that they feel comfortable telling you about suspicious activity in the future. Often, older people are embarrassed that they have been taken advantage of or feel like it’s a sign that they’re “slipping,” which may call into question their ability to care for themselves and threaten their independence. Reassure them that scammers are very skilled at what they do, and millions of people (of all ages!) get taken advantage of every year. Also, often times scammers work together, so a person who suspects identity theft should be on the lookout for other suspicious phone calls and letters in the future.

For more information, see: Social Security Administration Publication No. 05-10064, February 2016.


Last Updated on 11/7/2016