Identity Theft: You Can't Really Do Much About It (But Here's What You Can Do)

You can’t really stop identity theft from happening. So many entities have your credit card numbers, social security numbers, date of birth, and address, that it is more or less inevitable that we will all have our identities stolen at some point. If you are lucky, you will just get a credit card cloned. If you aren’t so lucky–like many people I see in my line of work–someone will start opening accounts, buying houses, or doing other nasty things in your name.

And there really isn’t anything you can do to stop it.

There are, however, things you can do to minimize the effects if and when your identity is stolen. Follow the jump for some tips.

  • Check your credit reports at least once per year. Check it more, if you like, although it will cost you a small fee.
  • Keep a close eye on all your bank and–especially–on your credit card accounts. Check your balances at least once a month (or better, every few days) so you catch fraudulent charges as soon as possible.
  • If you do find a fraudulent charge, notify your bank, close the account, and file a police report immediately.
  • Filing a police report is actually very important, since shortly after those accounts go to collection, they will probably show up on your credit report(s). You may need a police report to clear your credit report.
  • If you notice any fraudulent charges on your credit report, dispute them.

My officemate and fellow consumer lawyer, John Goolsby, has a great set of guidelines for identity theft victims that you can find at Caveat Emptor. What it boils down to is keeping your credit reports clear so that you can go on with your financial life as usual. And keep a tape recorder handy if you can record incoming phone calls in case the debt collectors start calling you.

If you take care of your credit reports, those fraudulently-opened accounts, houses, cars, whatever, will eventually be foreclosed on, repossessed, or charged off, and at some point (possibly years down the line), you won’t be associated with them any more. As long as they are not on your credit report, you won’t have to deal with anything but the stack of mail relating to things your identity thief is purchasing in your name. Unpleasant, yes, but something you can live with, at least. SAM GLOVER