Bouncing back after identity theft can be a time consuming, torturous process, which is why preventing it from happening in the first place is always a good move and saves IT support fun! Being strategic and thinking through this worst case scenario can pay off in the long run, and today’s post is all about how to prevent, and recover from, identity theft in both the personal and professional sphere. Read on for tips on what to do to plan for the worst, plus how to proceed if you’ve already been the victim of identity theft.
Plan Ahead to Protect Yourself, and Your Emotions
Finding out that your identity has been compromised is truly awful, especially if you feel completely blindsided by the attack. Preparing yourself for the possibility of ID theft or fraud can do wonders to not only prepare you emotionally, but also help you have a clear plan in place ahead of time. Identity theft is not only stressful, it can also bring on a real sense of violation that creates intense emotions. Being in an emotional place is never good when you have major decisions to make, so map out your plan before anything goes wrong so you can think straight once the bad news hits.
(And if you’re reading this after the fact and ready to reach through your screen and strangle me, please know that we feel for you, buddy! Read on for tips on what to do, and you can get yourself in a better place to avoid all this mess in the future).
Take a Tip from the Feds and Remember to Always SCAM
Identity Theft is a major crime in the U.S., and one the justice department takes seriously. As with data backup however, an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure. Consider the following acronym to keep both your personal information, as well as your company’s precious business data, safe and secure:
S: Be stingy about giving out personal information. At home or at work, never give out personal information over the phone or online unless you know you’re on a trusted connection talking with someone who is authorized to handle your personal details. If you get a cold call, always ask to call them back after you perform a quick vet by Googling their name, number, and place of business. When in doubt, don’t give info out.
C: Check your financial information regularly. This is great advice for your personal finances, and goes double for your business. Deploy a solid monitoring strategy to make sure your accounts are regularly monitored for fraudulent activity. Contracting with an IT support company for managed services that make regular monitoring part of your security plan is a great step to ensure that you notice any red flags right away. Put it in your calendar – really. Set a time once every 4 months for a quick check.
A: Ask for a copy of your credit report. Take advantage of your three free annual credit reports, and consider accessing them every few months for greater credit hygiene. Scrutinize your accounts and immediately report any suspicious activity. (see what I did there – three a year = once every four months – genius)
M: Maintain careful records of your personal and business documents. And at the risk of sounding like a broken record, back those documents up! Be sure as well to keep them safe and secure, behind layers of encryption that will keep prying eyes away from the financial lifeblood of your company.
Using this acronym is a good starting place for personal protection, but you’ll need to take it a few steps further if you’re talking business data. Never assume that someone else—especially the “IT support guy”—has it under control. Make data protection a priority, and create strong policies around confidential information practices. Put the policies on your team meeting agendas, and hold your staff accountable to upholding the policies that will keep your company safe. Make a clear, actionable plan for what to do in the face of a data breach, and ensure that you can act immediately if something happens as opposed to going fetal and kicking yourself for not being proactive.
Ten Steps for a Recent Victim of Identity Theft
So, what do you do if the worst has already happened? Consider this quick checklist of 10 must-dos, and then circle back to the beginning of the article and repeat after me: plan ahead and SCAM!
1. File a police report. Get copies for your personal records, as well as any copies you may need to supply to credit bureaus and financial institutions.
2. Get a current credit report. Then go through it with a magnifying glass and flag any and all suspicious activity.
3. Make copious notes. Keep a notebook and carefully track all the flags and indicators so you have a better chance of untangling the problem at the root.
4. File formal disputes for fraudulent activity. And keep copies of all claims with each company.
5. Follow up and document correspondence. Credit bureaus are required to investigate claims within 30 days, but you may need to be persistent to ensure they actually move quickly.
6. Request “Fraud Alert” status. In writing. From all the bureaus (see how many headaches prevention can save you?)
7. Place a “Freeze.” Block any unauthorized access to your account for an initial period of 90 days, or a full on seven year block. When this freeze is placed, you’ll have to have additional contact with companies any time you want to do financial business with them as an additional layer of protection. A pain in the butt, but probably worth it to prevent future pain!
8. Contact the FTC to forcibly close fraudulent accounts. ‘Nuff said.
9. Call the banks and/or credit card companies to close accounts. You will need to provide a “burden of proof” to cancel transactions and close accounts, which is where those notes and police reports come in handy.
10. Notify bill collectors of pending fraud. If you’ve already got some accounts in the red, let the hasslers know you’ve got a lot on your plate right now so that you won’t worsen your situation with additional calls and letters regarding your credit.
Say it with me now—make a plan to prevent identity theft, and save you and your business hours and hours spent on the phone! As with your data backup systems, your identity theft prevention system is only as good as your monitoring plan. As a leader – you need to lead. – Talk to your team about the seriousness of identity breach, and work with a team of IT support professionals to protect and back up all your personal information so you can bounce back as soon as possible—or hopefully never have to deal with the drama of fraud at all.