A $2000 Al Italia flight and $75 worth of ProFlowers headed to an unknown address in Atlanta—a romantic getaway complements of my checking account, but I wasn’t even in on the action. Close of business was almost five hours earlier, but I needed financial assistance, STAT. To avoid an identity theft nightmare like mine, check out these tips for acting quickly and efficiently to recover your cash and avoid a future breach.
Withdraw cash, then cancel.
It should seem obvious, but calling your cardholders is the initial “stop the bleeding” step. I probably spent an hour rubbing my eyes and looking in disbelief at my computer monitor. In my defense, a portion of that time was spent frantically looking for the appropriate hotline number. A word to the wise: pre-program the number to your banking and cardholder hotlines into your phone. You might never use it, but it will be there at a moment’s notice should crisis arise.
Depending on which card or account has been compromised, consider going to an ATM and withdrawing cash before the card cancelation step. You might not have access to your account for the next few days (or up to two weeks), so take out a cash stash to help insulate yourself against this serious inconvenience.
Visit Your Branch
Although many consumers are shifting personal finance entirely online, there are perks to banking with a brick and mortar establishment. A face-to-face interaction will tell you a lot about your bank’s commitment to customer service and how much or how little they value your business. After discovering fraudulent charges, I stopped by an area branch of my bank to discuss the situation and receive guidance. I found that my bank took a rather blasé approach. A representative sheepishly handed me an affidavit, and was seriously lacking in the guidance department. When my situation was finally resolved, changing banks became priority.
Submit an Identity Theft Report
Since the identity theft phenomenon has grown, the Federal Trade Commission recently outlined a series of guidelines to make sure you’re not left with shoddy credit and financial ruin in the long run. An official Identity Theft Report includes the following pieces: a formal complaint FTC affidavit, coupled with a police report.
The FTC strongly advises filing this twofold report in the event that an identity theft case extends past a few fraudulent charges, heading into collections territory. Consider this report a bulwark against creditors and companies holding you—and your credit score—accountable for an identity thief’s spending spree.
Your Next Call: The retailer where charges appear.
If fraudulent activity occurs on your debit card, you might notice that the charges are pending or stay pending for several days. Technically, your banking institution can’t help you until charges actually clear. Call it a little vigilante justice, but personally calling retailers to remove charges is time well spent. The ProFlowers charges I mentioned earlier? A call to ProFlowers headquarters landed me on the other end of a delightful conversation with a fraud department representative. The charges were removed by the end of the day—in fact, the in-house fraud department had already flagged the transaction as suspicious.
Find the Leak
Retailer breaches and mismanaged online security leave plenty of holes for predators to use as segues into your personal data. After a breach, review all online subscriptions and transactions, as well as any visits to retailers in the news for data breaches.
In my case, an online subscription to Adobe left me exposed to a massive illegal capture of data. Adobe offered a year of credit reporting to customers who were affected, and sent several forms of documentation alerting affected customers. Correspondence like this is exceptionally valuable in fleshing out a comprehensive identity theft report.
A breach in personal security often leads to the hard realization that e-commerce makes us all a lot more vulnerable than we want to admit. Add another protective layer to your personal finances with an app that sends push notifications and charge verifications. A slew of money management apps are available, but BillGuard has been touted as the best finance app on the market. It’s a free, effective way to verify fraudulent charges and a new menace: grey charges. BillGuard calls grey charges “deceptive and unwanted credit and debit card charges resulting from misleading sales and billing practices.” Whatever the unwanted charge, BillGuard will catch it.