Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, social security number, or credit card number without your knowledge or consent. Identity theft is a serious crime, but that does not deter identity thieves from plying their nefarious trade. The ideal response to identity theft is to prevent it from happening in the first place. What do you do if all of your preventative measures have failed and you find that you are the victim of identity theft? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends a 4 step course of action if you find yourself the victim of identity theft.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports
If you suspect that your identity has been stolen, one of your first steps should be to place a fraud alert on your credit report with all 3 major credit reporting agencies (Experian, Trans Union, and Equifax). You will only need to contact one of the credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit reports. The credit reporting agency that you contact is required by law to report the fraud alert to the other 2 agencies.
There are 2 types of fraud alerts that may be placed upon your credit report. An initial alert stays on your credit report for 90 days. You should request that an initial fraud alert be placed on your credit report if you suspect that you have been the victim of identity theft, if your wallet has been lost or stolen, or if you have been the victim of a phishing scheme. Placing an initial fraud alert on your credit report entitles you to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the 3 major credit reporting agencies. You should carefully review each copy of your credit report to identify any unauthorized entries or enquiries. If you find any unauthorized entries or enquiries on your credit report, you should contact the credit reporting agency to have the unauthorized entries removed from your credit report.
An extended fraud alert remains on your credit report for 7 years. You may request to have an extended fraud alert placed on your credit report if you have been a victim of identity theft and you have provided the credit reporting agency with an identity theft report. Additionally, placing an extended fraud alert on your account allows you to receive 2 additional free copies of your credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies within 12 months from placing the extended fraud alert on your account. As with the initial fraud alert, you should carefully review your credit report to locate and correct any unauthorized or inaccurate information.
Once you have placed a fraud alert on your account, a business must verify your identity before issuing you credit. This requirement can result in delays when you apply for credit. It is important that you keep you contract information in your fraud alert updated so that you can be contacted when necessary to verify your identity and that you authorized the business to check your credit report.
You also need to file an identity theft report with your local police and, in some instances, with the appropriate state or federal law enforcement agencies. You also need to send the identity theft report to the national credit reporting agencies. Upon receipt of the identity theft report, the credit reporting agencies have 15 days in which they can request additional information about your identity theft report. If the credit reporting agencies request additional information from you, you have 15 days to provide the additional information. If you do not provide the requested information within 15 days, then the credit reporting agencies may reject your identity theft report, thus forcing you to begin the process again.
Close accounts that have been compromised or fraudulently opened
If you find that any of your credit accounts have been compromised, or even suspect that your credit reports may have been compromised, you should immediately act to close these accounts. Additionally, if you find any accounts that were opened fraudulently, you should also close those accounts as soon as possible after discovery. Carefully review your statements for these compromised accounts so that you are prepared to dispute any unauthorized charges made on your account.
File a police report
Whenever possible, you should file a police report with your local police department. You should also get a copy of the police report so that you can provide it to creditors as proof that your identity was stolen.
File an identity theft complaint with the FTC
You should also file an identity theft complaint with the FTC. You may file the identity theft complaint online. The identity theft complaints filed with the FTC are used to create a database of identity theft information that law enforcement agencies across the country can access to help combat identity theft.
Contact the Social Security Administration
If you suspect that someone is illegally using your social security number, you should contact the Social Security Administration. In some circumstances, the Social Security Administration may issue you a new social security number. Obtaining a new social security number should be your last resort, as having a new social security number may create additional problems for you.
Identity theft is a serious problem in the United States. If your identity is stolen, you need to act quickly to protect yourself. By acting quickly, you may be able to lessen the severity of the damages from the identity theft and hasten your recovery from the identity theft.