identity theft victimThe partial government shutdown is good news for identity thieves and bad news for you. It’s already affecting employment and food safety inspections, hurting your wallet and even disrupting wedding plans, and the latest area of impact to hit the fan is your exposure to identity theft. As the lengthiest funding gap (under current shutdown rules) drags on, consumers who’ve fallen victim to identity theft have taken to social media, vocalizing and publicizing identity theft-related challenges resulting from federal agency closures. To make it easier for you to follow the conversation, we’re covering what you should know about the shutdown and its impact on all things identity theft. We’re also offering tips on what you should do if you become an identity theft victim during this time of crisis.

What to know about the government shutdown and identity theft

As you can probably imagine, federal agency closures have led to unpleasant surprises for those who’ve fallen prey to identity thieves. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), for one, has had its doors shut indefinitely since Dec. 28, 2018, which is bad news for identity theft victims. While the FTC doesn’t directly intervene in individual cases, it’s one of the primary receivers of filed identity theft complaints. It also offers ample resources to victims through various channels, such as its IdentityTheft.gov website, which provides identity theft reports and recovery plans to those who report online.

Because of the shutdowns, however, the agency has shuttered the site and its Complaint Assistant, which processes identity theft and consumer complaints — both of these state that they will “… resume normal operations when the government is funded.” While the FTC still provides some resources to identity theft victims, the indefinite closure of these consumer reporting channels has proven to be a major hindrance for identity theft victims, as one columnist for The Washington Post experienced firsthand. To make matters worse, identity thieves are aware of the government shutdown’s impact on consumers’ ability to report identity theft, and they’re taking advantage of it, which was the case with the fake sugar daddy targeting Grindr victims, as reported by Buzzfeed News.

The fact that consumers can’t file complaints through these sites isn’t the only problem. According to BuzzFeed News, reporting to the necessary parties without government-issued documentation (something that IdentityTheft.gov provides) can be a challenge: without it, banks and retailers may not initially believe that you’re an identity theft victim. It’s also possible that they could direct you to an FTC website that isn’t currently operating (as evidenced by one example in the BuzzFeed piece). As you can see, the list of identity theft-related concerns pertaining to the shutdown is a long one.

Other identity theft fears

The FTC’s closure is also a bad sign for consumers that aren’t identity theft victims. We’ve covered the growing onslaught of robocalls and their dour consequences in the past, and without the FTC to help enforce anti-robocall rules, more consumers could find themselves on the receiving end of these unwanted communications. That’s because scammers could take advantage of the lack of federal regulators and investigations during this time, aiming to steal identities or money from as many consumers as possible. On top of all that, consumers aren’t able to protect themselves using federal tools right now. For example, the FTC also runs the National Do Not Call Registry, and consumers are currently unable to register for it, as the service is also not in operation during the shutdown.

To add to the growing list of problems, some fear that national cybersecurity, which deals with attacks all the time, has been put at greater risk, since the understaffed organizations can’t troubleshoot the way they usually do. For one, some government website security certificates have expired or will expire as the shutdown continues, which will put the site’s users at risk of identity theft. Additionally, software patches may not be installed as regularly. Both expired certificates and unpatched sites could result in increased vulnerability to cyberattacks if updates aren’t made.

What should you do if you become an identity theft victim?

While you may not be able to take advantage of the government’s tools for reporting identity theft, there are still things you can do should you fall victim during the shutdown.

Place a credit freeze

One of the first things you’ll want to do is to place a credit freeze on your credit reports. Although you may also consider a fraud alert or credit lock, since you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you’ll want to get the best protection there is — that’s exactly what a credit freeze offers. What’s more, credit freezes are now free, which means it won’t cost you a dime to freeze all three of your credit reports.

File a police report

Even though the government shutdown prevents you from reporting the identity theft to the FTC, you can still file a police report with your local police department. This is an essential step in the reporting process, but it’s vital during the shutdown, as it will give you the proof you need to show the credit bureaus, banks, businesses or anyone else that the theft did occur. It can also help your local police department investigate the theft — something that’s especially helpful if it occurred locally. The earlier identity theft is detected, the sooner you can start the recovery process, so you’ll want to report the theft sooner rather than later.

Check your credit reports and contact the three major credit bureaus

Next, you’ll want to request copies of your credit reports, which you should be able to get for free, and report the crime to the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Be sure to comb through your credit reports to look for any account or information, like an address, you don’t recognize. If you spot potential fraud, report it to the bureau and contact the bank or issuer that opened the account.

Alert the necessary parties and organizations

Besides reaching out to the three major credit bureaus, you’ll also want to contact other parties and organizations that should be aware of the situation, including your bank, the State Attorney General, your credit card issuers (if there are fraudulent charges or accounts) and any other business or organization that may be impacted by the identity theft and fraudulent activities.

Keep documentation

It’s also best to file away all the documentation you accumulate when you’re reporting your case. A good rule of thumb is to note the date and time of all your communications (e.g., correspondence and telephone calls) and the content that was discussed. Keep records of all of them, including ones documenting interactions that show your attempts to report the case to the FTC, as they could be important down the road.

After the shutdown ends, report it to the FTC and other government agencies

Lastly, once the government shutdown ends, follow proper steps (the IdentityTheft.gov page provides step-by-step instruction) to report the case to the FTC and other government agencies. By doing so, you’ll be able to obtain further documentation and continue on your path to recovery.

By following these steps and taking any additional steps that are necessary for your particular case, you’re ready to take on identity theft during the government shutdown. Learn more about how you can protect your family and yourself from identity theft by reading our identity theft blog.