As technology continues to expand and become more sophisticated, we have to always be cautious of having our identity stolen. Major companies have been subject to breaches, including credit reporting agency Equifax. More than 200,000 people had their identity potentially stolen in a major breach in 2017, and many have had their identity stolen as a result. One of these people is Katie Van Fleet, and it hasn’t just happened once, but a total of 15 times.

“I don’t know if my information’s been sold to the dark web or wherever this goes,” she said. “I keep receiving letters from Kohl’s, from Macy’s, from Old Navy, saying, ‘Thank you for your application.” Van Fleet didn’t actually fill out any of those applications, however.

She also added that “I didn’t sign up to use Equifax, so I feel all of that stuff has been taken, and now I am left here trying to sweep up the pieces and just trying to protect myself and protect my credit…Somebody has an ID out there with my address, my name and their picture on it. That’s frustrating.” To help take care of the problem, Van Fleet has said that she filed a police report and froze her credit so that the theft would stop happening until everything gets figured out. Since freezing her credit, Van Fleet hasn’t noticed any further theft. “I want to share my story and make people aware that this can happen to anybody,” she said.

Van Fleet isn’t the only one that’s had her identity stolen multiple times because of major breaches, and she enlisted the help of attorney Catherine Fleming, who has filed a class-action lawsuit against Equifax. “The stories I hear are heart-wrenching,” Fleming said. Many people have had their social security numbers stolen, as well as credit card and driver’s license numbers.

Fleming denounced the credit reporting bureaus, saying that personal data is “A product that they want to sell and that they need to profit off of. That’s what they care about.” Cybersecurity expert Bryan Seely added that “Everyone’s social (security number) has pretty much been stolen in the last 10 years.” He says that to protect yourself from similar breaches, using a credit card is a good idea since the money is easier to recover, and that it won’t affect you immediately like having money from your debit card frozen. He adds that checking your credit report often is a good way to spot fraud before it becomes a problem, and freezing your credit if you see any fraud, reporting it immediately.

Like many, Van Fleet says she feels helpless because of all of the breaches that have happened. “I don’t think this would ever happen to me. So it’s been very frustrating. I feel extremely violated.” Van Fleet expects that she’ll be able to get her credit restored, though it’s been a painful process that takes quite a bit of time. Many know the pain that she’s been through. It costs an average of $500 per person to cleanup their credit, though some have paid even more.

Amy Krebs is one of those that has had their identity stolen, saying that her credit card number had been stolen and that 50 accounts were opened in her name. “I can’t even tell you what that felt like – like someone had taken over my life,” she said. It’s estimated that more than 17 million Americans are victims of identity theft on a yearly basis, and that most of the cases involve bank accounts and credit card numbers. That’s why experts warn that it’s important to stay on top of your credit often to avoid major disaster that can be lengthy and expensive to repair.