You do your best to look after your clients’ wellbeing, including maintaining a strong cybersecurity plan to safeguard their private data and the integrity of their financial accounts. However, bad actors make data protection more and more difficult with advanced schemes, and it’s more likely than ever that some of your clients will become the victims of identity theft. Before you get that panicked phone call, it pays to know what to do so you can be an asset to your clients when that stressful situation comes up. 

First of all, remain calm even if your clients are not. They’ll be looking for someone who can provide guidance and surety. You can advise your clients of the steps they should take, including:

  1. Utilize This is the FTC’s official site for identity theft, and it provides resources for reporting, checklists, and recovery plans.
  2. File a report with the local police.
  3. Close affected credit cards and bank accounts and transfer to new ones.
  4. Inform credit bureaus. It may also be beneficial to put a credit freeze on the accounts, which will remove access to credit reports. This makes it impossible for thieves to open new accounts in the client’s name. 
  5. Make a list of other potential places to contact, depending on the type/ depth of the theft, including utilities, government benefits, or rental property management. This list should include potential replacements that may be needed, such as phone numbers, government IDs, etc.
  6. Keep records of who was contacted, when, and what was said to facilitate follow-up later.

Next, reach out to your own back office for guidance. Your OSJ can guide you to the internal Fraud or Identity Theft team who will be able to provide information regarding how best to protect client accounts, whether through password updates, monitoring, or even freezing the existing accounts and journaling to new ones, depending on when the theft is discovered.

Repairing the damage of identity theft may take some time. It’s important to be there for your client throughout, helping them transfer accounts, adding additional security layers, and providing guidance on their recovery plan steps, which may include:

  1. Correcting credit reports.
  2. Closing accounts that were opened in their name.
  3. Removing fraudulent charges from accounts.
  4. Deciding if an extension of a credit freeze is necessary.
  5. Setting up additional fraud alerts and monitoring.

As always, the best protection is prevention. Take it upon yourself to be an educator for your clients when it comes to identity theft prevention techniques. There is no guarantee that the staunchest diligence will prevent identity theft, but these are talking points of ways to minimize risk. 

  1. Online Presence: Be cautious of the information you make available online. Personal data should never be posted in public forums. Identity thieves can piece together information from various sources.
  2. Security Features: Strong passwords that are regularly changed are only the first step. Layers of protection, including multi-factor authentication, can strengthen security by supplementing passwords. Take advantage of those features.
  3. Check Your Connections: Before doing business with any company to which you may provide your personal and financial information, look into them. Is it a reputable company? What sort of privacy policy do they have in place? Get those questions answered and the research done before giving a company your data.
  4. Software Help: Keep viruses and Trojan horses out of your computers by using anti-virus software and firewalls. More than that, make sure that they are up to date so the protection provided is current.
  5. Know What’s Happening: Gone are the days of trusting that no news is good news. Consistently look over accounts statements and make an annual review of your credit report. Each of the major credit reporting firms must provide a free copy of your credit report once every twelve months, so take advantage of that. 

Identity theft is a crime of opportunity, which is why prevention is the best way to fight it. However, no one can control all the factors around their online lives, and bad actors are constantly coming up with new viruses and new strategies to steal personal information. Identity theft can still happen offline the old-fashioned way by someone overhearing a phone call, going through trash and finding unshredded statements, or stealing a wallet. However, increased online activity makes it easier for identity thieves to work. Knowing how to help a client with this stressful situation makes you a valuable ally. You can be someone in a client’s corner in the event of identity theft by providing education and guidance before, during, and after, looking out for their wellbeing and their safety.

Mandy Szewczuk

More about the author: Mandy Szewczuk

Mandy works with advisors as the lead of Evolution Financial Advisor’s virtual assistant program and is part of the marketing and events team.