Even the most cautious consumers may find themselves victims of identity theft at some point. Criminals who have stolen your personal information, such as your bank account, credit card and Social Security numbers, can wreak havoc on your finances.
Follow these steps if you are a victim of identity theft:
1. Contact the credit bureaus
According to the Federal Trade Commission, you should first contact one of the three credit bureaus. Tell them you’re an identity theft victim and ask to place a fraud alert on your account (a free service).
It doesn’t matter which you call first. Once you contact one bureau, they are required to contact the others.
A fraud alert means any time someone attempts to open a line of credit in your name, the business must verify your identity. This will prevent thieves from opening credit cards or other accounts in your name since they will not be able to pass the identity verification.
The fraud alert stays on your account for 90 days, though you can renew it if necessary. By placing a fraud alert, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report.
For a small fee, you also can place a credit freeze, which prevents creditors from being able to access your credit report.
This makes it even less likely an identity thief can open credit in your name, but you need to contact each of the three credit bureaus individually to do this.
2. Review your credit report
You should have received your free credit report after placing a fraud alert. Look closely at every inquiry and every open line of credit to identify the accounts fraudulently opened in your name.
If you’re not already, you should be regularly checking your credit report for errors and suspicious activity. Pay close attention to any details that seem unfamiliar or suspicious.
3. Notify the Federal Trade Commission
The FTC recommends you contact them by submitting a report online or by calling 1‑877‑438‑4338.
Give them as much detail as possible. They will generate an Identity Theft Affidavit for you.
They do not investigate the incident, but filing a complaint with the FTC makes it more likely that law enforcement will help you.
4. Report it to the police
Next, go to your local police station to report the crime.
The FTC encourages consumers to bring the Identity Theft Affidavit along with any other proof of the theft. If they won’t take the report, the FTC says to try another station, the sheriff or even a state or federal authority.
You may still have trouble getting help, but according to Equifax, “Though the authorities are often unable to assist you, a police report may be necessary to help convince creditors that someone else has opened an account in your name.”
The FTC affidavit and police report together are sometimes referred to as your Identity Theft Report.
5. Close your accounts
Contact your financial institutions and let them know you were a victim of identity theft.
According to the U.S. Department of Justice, “You may need to cancel those accounts, place stop-payment orders on any outstanding checks that may not have cleared and change your [ATM] card, account and [PIN number].”
6. Contact businesses where fraud occurred
If your credit report or bank accounts showed lines of credit or purchases were illegally made using your identity, you need to contact those businesses and request to speak to the fraud department.
Inform them that you were an identity theft victim to get the transactions or lines of credit removed. You may need to show them your Identity Theft Report as proof.
7. Continue monitoring your credit report
There can be a delay between when an account is opened and when it shows up on your credit report, so it’s wise to continue monitoring your credit report on an ongoing basis.
For the next six months to a year, view your credit report regularly to ensure there are no new accounts opened in your name.
For identity theft victim resources, such as contact information, sample letters and checklists, view the FTC guide to identity theft.
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