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Your Identity has been stolen! Now what?

My identity was stolen. Here’s what I’ve learned about identify theft and what to expect.

A Brief History of Identity Theft

When King Sebastian of Portugal died in 1578, at least four different men impersonated the king and got away with it for several years.

In the 1900s, identity theft was used to stuff ballot boxes at elections. Think Mayor Richard J. Daley of Chicago: “vote early, vote often” or “ghost voting,” where the ballot box is stuffed with the names of people who had died before the election.

Identity Theft Today

Let’s also not forget the generations of underage kids using their older siblings’ driver’s licenses, or scratching out the 8 to make their birth year 1963 in order to buy a beer at Theo’s…oh, wait, that’s a different blog post.

With the advent of the internet, cyber crimes including ID theft and fraud have skyrocketed. In Michigan alone there are more than 40,000 open cases as of March 2017. Michigan is ranked #6 in the nation in identity theft and is 3rd in the nation in fraud. (Source: Insurance Information Institute) It can happen to anyone, and I happen to be one of those cases. Someone got ahold of my social security number, birthdate and employer name to file a fraudulent claim for unemployment benefits. Luckily, the unemployment office contacted my human resources department prior to paying out benefits. Surprise! I’m definitely still working here, and so are several of my co-workers who were also affected.

How to Mitigate an Identify Theft

No doubt you already know to keep your personal information secured, but even if you have your info guarded by a three-headed dog named Fluffy, chances are you will have it stolen at some point. Here at Merit we think a lot about cybersecurity for organizations, but since I’ve just had my personal identity stolen, I thought I’d share some tips & resources to make the mitigation of your identity theft a little easier.

  1. As soon as you are notified or suspect that your identity has been stolen, contact your local police department to file a report. You will receive a case number which will be used when you contact your financial institutions and credit agencies. In Michigan, a victim is entitled to file a police report, and the victim’s hometown police department is the standard reporting agency for identity theft. In my case, the sheriff’s deputy came to my house and wrote down my pertinent information.
  2. The Michigan State Police has a division dedicated to these crimes and offers an excellent web page full of resources and actions for you to take.
  3. Call the credit bureaus and have a block put on your name to avoid any further fraudulent accounts from being created in your name. With a police report number, that block can last as long as 7 years. Without the report you will still be protected for 90 days. Usually calling one bureau will be enough as they will sync their information.
  4. Write down the names of everyone you talk to with dates and what you discussed. Set yourself up with a system to keep and organize all the information you collect during the mitigation process. Unfortunately, errors in your credit may still show up years after the original crime occurred.
  5. Let your employer know that this has happened to you so that your human resource department can be on alert for any other claims made in your name. According to the Sheriff’s Deputy who came to my house, many employers will simply pay out the claim without verifying the person’s identity.
  6. The website also has a lot of useful information including the common types of theft that can happen to us.

It seems like the bad guys are always one step ahead of us, but I was really encouraged to find out how many resources are available to victims of identity theft and fraud. We can help law enforcement by encouraging our employers to investigate any and all claims for benefits (medical, unemployment, etc.) by filing a police report and putting blocks on our information with the credit bureaus. This can at least slow the fraud down somewhat, that is until we can perfect our Disarming Spells…