February 13/20, 2017: Volume 31, Number 18
By Roman Basi
(Second of two parts)
In part I of this series, I talked about the various ways business owners can protect themselves from identity theft (FCNews, Jan. 30/Feb. 6). In this installment, I talk about the telltale signs that your identity and personal information may have been compromised and what to do to rectify the situation.
How to determine if your identity has been stolen. Two words will guide you here: “seek” and “watch.” One thing many people neglect to do is to monitor their credit report. Credit reports are available either online or through the mail with the three major reporting bureaus. They can be provided to you once a year at no cost to you. Even if you do not suspect identity theft, it is a good idea to get and view your credit report each year. In doing so, you can check to see if anyone else is using your social security number and you can have erroneous items removed.
More importantly, get into the habit of monitoring your credit on a regular basis—not only in situations where you anticipate having to take out a loan, for example. You can even sign up to receive automated texts or e-mail alerts. If you notice errors in your credit report, the best thing to do is make a complete list of them. Look at your personal information as well as your credit history. It’s estimated about 75% of consumer credit reports contain at least one mistake, and it’s likely a majority of those contain multiple errors.
The second thing to do is to watch for any suspicious activity. Do you receive your bills late? Are there any erroneous or fraudulent charges on your credit card? Are your bills coming at all? Do you have excellent credit but get denied requests to extend your credit line? Has the IRS stated that your income is higher than what you reported on your most recent tax returns? If so, it is possible and even likely that your identity has been stolen or contains substantial errors. If any of this happens it is time to get on the ball and find out the source of the problem. It could simply be an error, but it is better to be safe than sorry.
What to do if your identity is stolen. Again, two words should guide you here: “report” and “counter.” In the event of a breach and confirmation that your identity has been stolen, you need to report it immediately. First, contact all of your credit card companies; they will know what to do. Also, have them send you a credit card statement so you can determine what is correct and what is not. Next, contact all three credit bureaus and have a security hold placed on your accounts. Then, contact the local police and Federal Trade Commission. In the event you received information through the Internal Revenue Service, contact them and explain your story. These organizations will aid you in stopping the thief from going any further or doing more damage.
Lastly, contact other relevant financial institutions. As soon as you’ve begun the process of disputing incorrect credit report entries, contact the affected financial institutions, in writing, to apprise them of the situation. A letter similar to the one you send to the credit agencies, including copies of police reports and other documentation is best.
Don’t let a thief enjoy the fruits of all your labor.
Roman Basi is an attorney and CPA with the firm of Basi, Basi, & Associates at The Center for Financial, Legal & Tax Planning. He writes frequently on issues facing business owners.