graphic depicting spammers stealing someone's identity online

I had a recent brush with identity security. Yes, me. The person who advises all of you what not to click on, and how you should protect your financial information. As embarrassing as it is to admit, it just goes to show that you should always slow down and pay close attention when filling out forms, paying bills, or making purchases online. It can, and does, happen to anyone.

I won’t get into the details of how it happened. For one thing, I don’t have proof that my identity was actually stolen. But also, the how isn’t important. I simply suspect my risk is now higher, and that worries me enough to take action, so I’m going to tell you exactly what I did to proactively protect my information.

Keep an Eye on Outgoing Money

First, I reviewed my credit card transactions to make sure nothing out of the ordinary had occurred. This helped me to figure out whether I needed to contact my bank immediately to report fraud.

Seeing nothing concerning, I moved on to the next step.

Contact the Big Three, Credit Reporting Agencies that is.

I set up an account at each of the three major credit reporting agencies. This is simple to do. You need some identifying personal information to start, but once you’ve got an account you can easily put out a fraud alert on yourself or set up a credit freeze.

I don’t have immediate plans to apply for new credit, so I opted to freeze my credit. This is easy to turn on and off and ensures that my credit history is safe and secure.

One agency did ask me some more complicated questions pertaining to my history. Past transactions, accounts and/or address information. That made me feel a little bit like I was doing one of those “prove I’m a human” tests with all the little squares. The self-doubt really sets in when you don’t know if that’s the corner of the stoplight in the upper right picture, or just the haze of pixelated imagery. This did help me to feel a little more secure at the end of it all.

Oh! And, bonus, these agencies provide a free credit check and score, so I was able to knock that off my list of things to do in 2024 as well. We generally recommend checking your credit report a few times a year – at minimum.

Order New Cards and/or Open New Accounts

After feeling like I had my credit security tightened up, and sleeping somewhat restlessly (this all happened around midnight one night) I woke up the next day and took some additional steps. I reached out to my bank to request a new card number for the card that was tied to the potential breach. Again, no proof that I was compromised, but my card is getting ready to expire and it contributed to my peace of mind.

Depending on whether your card is a credit or debit card may mean you need to take different steps to protect your funds. Anything tied to a deposit account, and not a credit account, is best closed and opened with a new account number.

Be honest and up front with whomever is helping you as that will ensure the proper steps are followed.

Check in with Uncle Sam

Depending on how far-reaching the problem is, you may want to consider reporting the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The FTC can’t resolve your problem, but they can investigate issues and take steps to put a stop to bad actors. If you did have identity theft involving your social security number, you can fill out a form on the IRS website to alert them you’re compromised.

After that’s done, you may want to consider getting an Identity Protection PIN (IP PIN). You’ll use this number to file taxes in the future, which helps the IRS weed out tax fraud and filings from criminals posing as you.

The FTC also has a resource for those suffering from identity theft that walks through some of the steps above, in addition to some others. Depending on what’s at stake, you may need to take other steps to set up new logins and change passwords to protect yourself.

Learn more at

Hopefully you don’t need to use any of the above tips. Over a million Americans end up having their identity stolen each year, and that’s a number that seems to continue to rise. As bankers we see just about everything, so there’s no need to be embarrassed if it does happen to you. The important thing is to be open and honest and act quickly to prevent loss.

A Lesson in Identity Protection from a Tenured Banker
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