OK. You’ve survived the first few days, post identity theft. You now have a secure computer, perhaps even a new cell phone, and you are ready to clean up or unfreeze certain accounts. Proceed knowing that many of your accounts may not recognize your username or password. Failed logins, while frustrating, are your new norm. How you deal with them is what is important.
So, what should you do next?
Use a Secure VPN and Antivirus
Make sure to use a virtual private network (VPN) service on your phones and computers. If available, enable the “Kill Switch” setting that shuts down all internet access should your virtual network drop temporarily. Using a VPN should be as automatic as using a reputable antivirus/malware program. My VPN rule applies to Apple products as well. Please do not buy into the propaganda that iPhones or Macs cannot be hacked. My iPhone13 was taken over by hackers while I was online speaking with an Apple Customer Service representative!
Do NOT Rush to Update Online Payment Details
When you receive your new credit cards resist the temptation to login to various online accounts and update your payment information. What’s the rush? Most monthly subscription fees will be honored by your card company even if charged to your old number . . . at least initially. Also, consider that the hackers, if they have enough of your information, may be able to recapture control of your accounts (see below). My hackers controlled my emails, my cell phone and even my Experian account. I was a total identity theft victim. My malefactors were able to recapture various online accounts after I had reset them . . . accessing newly input, updated credit card information.
Cancel Old Accounts
With your credit frozen with Transunion, Equifax and Experian you’ll want to properly secure/recover your credit card and loan accounts. You have no other choice, short of unfreezing your credit which, for obvious reasons, is not recommended. However, you do have choices concerning what to do with your non-credit accounts. I am referring to accounts like Etsy, Ebay, Netflix, Amazon, Apple, Google Play, Walmart, Home Depot and many, many more.
My advice? Cancel old, non-credit accounts and set up new ones. Yes, you will lose purchased music, videos, apps, and order histories. Do it anyway. Why? Because old account data does not always go away, even when updated or replaced. Time and again I found that, after making changes to online logins, my old contact data “reappeared.” I spent three painful weeks attempting to recover my Google Fi phone. My communications with Google, all from my work email account, were clear: “All of my prior contact phones and emails were suspect and out of my control.” After numerous conversations, both verbal and email, I was told that Google had determined that I was the actual account owner. I felt great . . . until I realized that the reset link was sent to one of my old, compromised emails. I felt even worse when Google refused to reopen its investigation. Nor was Google unique. I suffered similar indignities with Bank of America, Citibank, Amazon and others. Old emails and old phone numbers, like old soldiers, never die. So, if you can, cancel and start anew.
If you are like me, you probably never gave customer service departments much thought. You assumed that Support would be available when needed. It is . . . and it isn’t. Many organizations have no phone-in support options, offering only online help. In a classic Catch-22 situation, some sites even require that you login to your account in order to access Support (LinkedIn, I mean you). Not much help, that. Other companies provide toll free phone support but staff those functions sparingly. Calls to my bank’s mortgage department routinely involved waits exceeding one hour. In other instances, my questions resulted in long pauses while representatives spoke with supervisors or sought answers. All told, plan to spend a minimum of one hour on every customer service call . . . and expect that many issues will require multiple calls to resolve. Realize also that some identity theft issues will never be resolved.
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Peter has spent the past twenty-plus years as an acting/consulting CFO for a number of small businesses in a wide range of industries. Peter’s prior experience is that of a serial entrepreneur, managing various start-up and turnaround projects. He is a co-founder of Keurig.