As you work to re-establish your credit after filing bankruptcy, it’s important to keep a close eye on all your accounts, as well as your credit report. Some people are dismayed to discover that they’ve been a victim of identity theft or identity fraud, especially after working so hard to get their finances in order. If this happens to you, you do have some work ahead of you, but the situation isn’t hopeless.

What is Identity Theft?

Most states have identity theft laws in place to punish people who wrongfully use others’ personal information to commit various types of fraud, usually involving the person’s finances. In 1998 the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrent Act made identity theft a federal crime. This law states that it is illegal to use another person’s identity or identification with the intent to commit a crime. Penalties for this crime were increased in 2004 with the passing of Theft Penalty Enhancement Act. For “aggravated” identity theft, people could be sentenced to two years in prison, or up to five years, if the offense was related to terrorism. Several government agencies are responsible for investigating and prosecuting these crimes, including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, Secret Service, and the Federal Trade Commission.

It is illegal to misuse social security numbers, account numbers, credit card numbers, PINs, and credit histories. Thieves may gain access to this information by stealing purses or wallets for credit cards and ID cards, going through trash for bank statements and bills, hacking into computer systems, or even abusing access they have to records through their employer. This is one of the fastest growing crimes in the US, as well as one of the most frustrating to deal with.

Preventing Identity Theft

One of the tricky things about identity theft is that you may not even know you’re a victim unless you pay close attention to your accounts. The easiest way to deal with this is to protect yourself from being a victim in the first place. To do this, it’s wise to shred any documents that may have identifying information in them, and don’t carry your social security card with you. Keep your computer software and virus protection up to date, including installing a firewall. Also, make sure your passwords are complex with capitals, numbers, and special characters, and be alert of your surroundings as you enter your PIN anywhere to make sure no one is looking over your shoulder. Even with these precautions, some people have their information stolen when large banks or organizations are hacked, so it’s best to always stay alert about your credit report.

What do I do if I’m a Victim?

If you believe you’ve been a victim of identity theft, there are some steps you’ll need to take to get things cleared up. Contact the three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, and Trans Union) to put a fraud alert on your reports. You’ll also want to file a police report, as well as a report with the Federal Trade Commission. It’s also a good idea to contact any financial institutions that you know have been affected, such as your bank or credit card company.

If your finances have already been a source of stress and you’ve been considering bankruptcy, you may need some extra help resolving your identity theft. I can assist you with getting your finances back on track, so get a hold of me if you need help.