Recent statistics show that a whopping 16.7 million people in the United States were victims of identity theft just over the last year.

Even more concerning, these victims lost an estimated $16.8 billion dollars in stolen assets. Criminals use social security card numbers, credit card information and personal data to open new accounts, commit tax fraud or bank fraud, take out fraudulent loans and leases, re-route government and retirement benefits and so much more life-destroying activity.

While there is no doubt it can be difficult to recover from identity fraud, recovery becomes measurably faster and easier when you are alert and are able to report identity theft right away. Let’s take a look at how you can monitor your identity and quickly report any fraud…

What Is Identity Theft?

According to the official guide to USA government services, identity theft is what occurs when your personal data and information is taken for the purposes of committing criminal activities.

There are many kinds of identity theft and new methods are developed on an ongoing basis. The main methods are divided into a number of categories, each of which has a different detrimental impact.

Social media theft occurs when a criminal takes your personal data and uses to create a fake profile on a social platform to pose as you.

Tax identity theft occurs when a criminal takes your Social Security card number and files false tax documents while posing as you.

Medical identity theft occurs when a criminal takes your health insurance data and uses it to file false health claims to get money while posing as you.

New account identity theft occurs when a criminal takes your personal data and uses it to open new accounts or contracts while posing as you.

It is vitally important to know that identity theft affects people of all ages. Child identity theft and senior identity theft can be particularly difficult to detect until lots of damage has already been done.

How to Spot Identity Theft

According to the USA Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there isn’t just one way to spot identity theft.

Rather, you need to know about several warning signs and always keep an eye out. Here, it can be helpful to opt into identity theft protection services to limit your exposure, since these services keep watch on your behalf.

Warning signs of identity theft can include receiving bills or paperwork for products or services you did not initiate, missing bills or documents that you were expecting to receive, being notified of multiple tax filings in your name, being denied benefits or services because your personal data is incorrect, creditors or third-party debt collectors begin to contact you or you see unknown charges on your accounts.

When to Report Identity Theft

One of the most concerning identity theft data breaches of all time occurred in 2017 when one of the “big three” credit reporting bureaus, Equifax, was breached. An estimated 143 million customers were impacted to some degree.

This is particularly concerning since one of the traditional steps for how to report identity theft is to notify each of the three major credit reporting bureaus! This breach just goes to show that even giant cybersecurity specialists can become vulnerable to identity theft.

New strategies to steal people’s identity are developed every day and sometimes it can feel like you need to have a thousand eyes watching in a hundred directions at once to protect yourself. For this reason, more people are choosing to protect themselves, their children and elder loved ones with identity theft protection and monitoring services.

Reporting identity theft should begin the moment you suspect there may be a problem. You don’t need to wait for confirmation and shouldn’t because the longer you wait, the more vulnerable you potentially become.

How to Report Identity Theft

The right strategy for how to report identity theft depends in part on the type of identity theft you have experienced (or think you have experienced).

The first thing you want to do is contact and alert your identity theft protection service if you have one.

The next step is to contact the Federal Trade Commission and let them know you are a victim of identity theft. Complete their step-by-step process online or over the phone.

The next step you take depends on the type of identity theft you are reporting. If you have noticed unknown charges on your credit card statement or unauthorized bank drafts, contact your financial institution’s customer service center to alert them right away and dispute the charges.

If the identity theft is related to your taxes, contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and report the theft to them.

If the identity theft is related to Medicare, contact Medicare and ask for the Fraud Office. Alternately, if you are insured privately or under your employer’s plan, contact the insurer directly to report the identity theft.

For local or regional cases of identity theft, you may want to alert your state consumer protection department or your local police department and file a police report.

In the same way, if the identity theft included theft of your Social Security number, be sure to contact the Social Security Administration right away to report the incident and request a new number.

It is also smart to alert the three major credit reporting bureaus, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax, to put a fraud alert on your account.

Learning how to report identity theft before it happens to you can save you valuable time and decrease the stress you feel when responding to a personal identity breach.

The faster you act to report identity theft, freeze your accounts, place fraud alerts in all the relevant places and cancel and replace personal credit cards, accounts and vital documents, the less impact the breach is likely to have on your life and personal finances.

And with a little help from identity theft protection services, you can monitor your family’s personal data and ensure everyone’s safety in the future.