People who spend a lot of time on the internet are vulnerable to cyberattacks and scams. No matter how cautious we try to be, sometimes we accidentally enter suspicious websites or give personal information away.
Unfortunately, disclosing your personal information has numerous risks, primarily identity theft. Criminals can use your identity to steal money from you by using your credit cards, accessing your financial accounts, or claiming your tax refund.
There’s no need to panic, though—we’ve been there. To help, we've scoured the web for authoritative sources and experts to gather insights and helpful tips for securing your information. We also checked official government sources to gather the guidelines on what you should do when you're scammed.
We’ve discovered the best thing to do when accidentally giving out your information. Don’t be an ID theft fraud victim—know the red flags here.
What can you do if you accidentally give away your personal information?
The consequences of giving a scammer your name, address, and date of birth can be terrifying, but you can take several steps to lessen the risks.
Here are some of our recommendations on what to do if you gave out your personal info, according to authoritative sites and independent forums like Reddit:
1. Change all your passwords
Experts always recommend that we change our passwords regularly. But after a scam, it’s imperative to switch them into something strong, secure, and unique.
It’s also essential to have different passwords for each account and not just a single one for everything. In other words, never use the same password for all your online accounts.
A strong and secure password should be at least eight characters long, containing letters, numbers, and symbols.
If you can’t keep up with your passwords, consider using a password manager. The right one can also help you generate unique ones for future use.
2. Consider two-factor authentication
Apart from changing your password, you can also consider signing up for two-factor authentication. Also known as “2FA,” the two-step verification adds an extra layer of security to your account logins.
Many online entities, such as Gmail and Facebook, implement it, making it an excellent way to protect your online accounts. It works by entering another identification level, which mostly requires you to send a code text to your phone.
Hackers won’t be able to access your account because simply logging into your email won’t do—they need to code text sent directly to your phone.
3. Check your accounts regularly
Following a scam, it's critical to remain vigilant and pay close attention to your account activity. This includes your credit card bills, bank accounts, social media accounts, and other credit lines.
You must examine everything for any suspicious activity, even years after the incident. Developing a habit of keeping your accounts checked is a proactive measure against every identity theft fraud case.
4. Request a fraud alert on your credit report
Fraud can significantly harm your credit score, and the effects can be long-lasting. Because of this, credit protection should be high on your priority list.
You can request a fraud alert for free and keep it on your credit for as long as necessary. Any identity thief will find it difficult to open an account in your name.
To request one, contact at least one credit bureau—they’ll contact the other two for you, effectively placing the fraud alert.
5. Freeze your credit
According to Lisa Schiller, Director of Investigations and Media Relations at the Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Wisconsin, “Consumers in the United States have access to a powerful tool — the credit freeze — to lock down their credit reports and prevent identity thieves from establishing new lines of credit in their names.”
Important to note: A credit freeze is one of the best ways to protect yourself because identity thieves often want to use your information to apply for credit they will never pay. Credit freezes offer robust protection against fraudulent account activity.
If you want a credit freeze, you need to contact all three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You can do so online, by phone, or by mail.
They will restrict all access to your credit score, meaning that identity thieves, lenders, and even you won’t have access to your information. This prevents anyone from using your name to create a new credit line.
You can unfreeze your credit at any time or temporarily unfreeze it if you need access to your information.
6. Invest in identity theft protection services
If you want even more peace of mind, consider investing in an identity theft protection service.
Unfortunately, you will need to shell out money to enjoy their services, including credit freezes, fraud alerts, and credit report monitoring. From what you can gather from previous tips listed here, you can all do this by yourself.
If you want to invest in an identity theft protection service, make sure it offers extra services like insurance.
Understanding the potential risks of giving out your personal information
What can a scammer do with your name and date of birth? They can use them for several crimes, such as identity theft. They can even harm your finances because financial identity theft is the most common form of ID theft.
Cybercriminals use personal and financial information as currency. They exist in the online world to stalk potential victims, and they can use stolen identities to access bank accounts and apply for credit cards or loans in your name. All these can ruin your credit rating.
That said, exercising caution when disclosing personal information online is crucial. Sharing your address, contact numbers, and even social media content puts you at risk of identity theft, stalking, and harassment.
Scammers can use any information you make publicly available. From there, cybercriminals can piece them together to:
- Withdraw money from your bank accounts
- Open new bank accounts using your name for loans and credit cards
- Purchase luxury goods
- Access your government benefits
- Use your email to access other online accounts
- Impersonate you using your social media to scam your loved ones
How can you check if someone is using your identity?
It isn’t easy, but there is a way to know if someone is using your identity. Here are some tips we’ve gathered from sources and experts:
1. Assess your credit score
Your credit score will always come into play. Most people overlook this, but any suspicious changes in your credit score can indicate identity theft. Your credit score will suffer if someone takes out loans in your name and does not pay.
That said, it’s important to check if there are new accounts created under your name. Once identity thieves obtain sufficient information, they can open new accounts and credit cards.
This is why it’s critical to check your credit report from all three major credit bureaus—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—as they can help you examine any pressing issues.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) allows US consumers to request free credit reports every 12 months through AnnualCreditReport.com.
2. Check your mail
If you find questionable content in your physical mailbox, this could indicate identity theft. People can receive bills at their addresses but with different names and contact numbers.
Identity thieves usually create a fake identity using factual information gathered from multiple people. They can use your address, but put another one’s Social Security number and name on the bank account or credit card.
What can you do if a scammer has victimized you?
You may have done everything you can to prevent the scam or minimize risks, but sometimes scammers just get the better of us.
If you find yourself a victim of identity fraud, here’s what you can do:
1. Contact the authorities
Under the law, a scam is a form of fraud, making it a criminal offense. If you’ve been scammed, don’t hesitate to notify law enforcement as soon as you realize what happened.
Doing so will allow you to file a police report, which can be helpful for insurance and strengthening your case.
Contacting the authorities also prompts them to begin the investigation, which gives you a fighting chance to protect yourself against financial loss and potential harassment. This is especially crucial if you accidentally gave your address or SSN to a scammer.
2. Reach out to the three credit bureaus
Suppose you accidentally give your Social Security number, address, date of birth, and other personally identifying information. In that case, it’s best to notify all three major credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax) immediately.
You can either request a free fraud alert or credit freeze, which reduces the scammer’s chances of opening new credit lines like mortgages, credit cards, and other loans.
3. Report the incident to your respective financial institutions
If you accidentally provided the scammer with your bank information, you must notify your bank immediately. Representatives can assist you to the best of your abilities, and their instructions will depend on the situation.
If the scam involves your bank account, banks may be able to cancel wire transfers and block other transactions. They can also block credit cards and cease checks. Simply put, it’s crucial to reach out to them as soon as possible.
Scammers are like predators; they wait and pounce unannounced, which makes all of us vulnerable to their schemes.
The first thing you need to do after being scammed is to know that you’re not to blame. The second is to know that you’re not alone and that there are ways to minimize the risks.
All the tips listed above are just some of the things you can do. Keep them in mind at all times!