How to Prevent and Recover from Identity Theft

Recently I got a call saying my social security number was stolen.

Right away I knew it was a scam because the Social Security Administration, like the IRS, will not call you. They’d send a letter (although scammers try to fake those too). It is one of the latest identity theft schemes. Another give-away was that the on-hold voice had a British accent.

Per the Federal Trade Commission, in 2018 identity thieves hacked 3 million people for a total cost $1.48 billion in the US.

You may find it strange that an accountant is writing about identity theft. It’s a good thing and here’s why.

We have lots of sensitive personal information about our clients. Especially CPA's are an enticing target, chocked full of valuable information. Thus, we must protect our clients' information.

Everyone needs to remain vigilant to protect their identity, not only accountants.

Ever send personal information over email? Read this first.

While there is no sure-fire way to prevent identity theft, there are things you can do to prevent and catch it. Some are pretty common, and you may do them without a second thought. Others take a little more effort.

Here is a list of ways to prevent identity theft.

1. Review your credit report.

2. Install anti-virus software on your computer, phone, and tablets. I use Malwarebytes.

3. Back up data on a regular schedule– reduces the loss in a ransomware attack.

4. Change passwords at least twice a year and make them difficult to crack. Use special characters, numbers, and at least eight digits.

5. Use a VPN if you are accessing sensitive information on public wi-fi, I use NordVPN.

6. Trust your gut. If a call, email, or letter looks suspicious, verify it’s authenticity before you respond.

7. Pay attention to new scams reported on the news.

Prevention is helpful, but your sensitive information is not entirely in your control. Identity thieves steal data from financial institutions, government agencies, and online stores too.

If you’re a victim of identity theft, follow these steps:

1. File an Identity Theft Affidavit with the FTC.

2. Go to the police to report it.

3. Change passwords and PIN numbers on all accounts.

4. Alert all your bank and credit cards.

5. Report it to the three credit agencies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

6. Notify the IRS.

7. Review your credit report for errors.

8. Review your bank and credit card statements and contest charges you don’t recognize.

These steps will help you catch fraudulent transactions and limit any damage.

Beyond the prevention steps, I limit access to client data and use secure online programs. Also, I have cyber-security insurance, just in case.

Scammers invent new ways to steal identities all the time. Keep your security up to date and pay attention when new hacks pop up.

And if you get a call from the Social Security Administration, hang up.