Did you know as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year? The good news is there are ways to detect whether you were one of them – and strategies for stopping the damage before it spirals out of control.

Monitor – Review your bank statements and account bills closely for fraudulent or inaccurate information. Tip: Online Banking lets you review your daily activity anytime, rather than waiting for your monthly statement.

Watch – Watch the mail. If your usual bills don’t arrive on time, follow up with your creditors. Someone could have taken over your account and changed the mailing address or be capturing your mail. Opt out of receiving new offers and blank checks via mail from your credit card companies.

Beware – Be wary if you receive calls from debt collectors or alleged creditors, or if you are denied credit or a loan.

Confirm – Double-check your credit report. You’re entitled to a free annual credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies. Order yours and confirm the information. The three credit bureaus also let you put a freeze on approving any new credit for you unless you contact them directly and approve it.

Any of these things could happen if someone is using your personal information including your name, Social Security number and/or credit card information. The consequences are grave, and could take years to remedy.

Stolen identity – What to do first?

What should you do if you discover you are a victim of identity theft? There are 4 immediate steps you should take:

  • Place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
  • Close accounts that have been tampered with.
  • File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Do it quickly by calling the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT
  • File a report with local police.

Undoing the damage

Recovering from the results of fraudulent use of your identity isn’t simple, but it’s not impossible.

The best way to start is by following the damage-recovery steps recommended by the FTC.

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