What to do When You’re a Victim of Identity Theft
Identity theft can cost you large sums of cash, monopolize weeks of your valuable time, and damage your reputation within the local community. Theft of identity causes victims to feel violated and distrusting of strangers. You should take quick action to confront the situation directly to limit damages and financial loss.
File a Police Report
Theft of identity is a very real crime, and victims have a legal responsibility to report the matter to local police. Sometimes, busy police departments may fail to take the crime seriously. In such cases, you can ask to file an incident report, or you could try another jurisdiction such as state authorities. Check the state attorney general to determine if local police must accept your report. Try to obtain a copy of the police report or a case number, because you will need this proof for other purposes.
Contact the Credit-Reporting Agencies
Immediately inform all three credit bureaus of the fraud. You have the option to freeze your account or enter a fraud alert on your report. The freeze would prevent agencies from any further reporting of information about the account. Alerts should cause the bureaus to take extra steps when analyzing requests for credit to confirm the applications are legitimate. You have the option of choosing a 90-day alert or extended alert, which lasts seven years. Contact information for the major bureaus is listed below:
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Filing the Fraud Report
You will need to file an identity theft report in two parts:
- The first part covers the information in the police report. Copies of that report or case numbers can be used. If you do not have a copy, you might need to repeat the information.
- The second area depends on the specific policies of each credit-reporting bureau. You might need to provide further details or proof of the fraud.
Get Copies of Your Credit Report
After filing your identity theft report, the bureaus will provide information on how you can get free copies of your credit report. You should be sure to do so in order to investigate the details. Challenge any transactions that you did not authorize.
File Any Insurance Claims Promptly
If you have any fraud insurance coverage, you should file an immediate claim. Follow the reporting requirements of your individual insurance carrier.
Contact Financial Lenders
You must inform the financial institutions that extended unauthorized credit in your name as quickly as possible because there might be time limits for reporting fraudulent activity. By reporting lost credit cards or charges you did not make promptly, you limit your liability. You should also review all your credit accounts at this time to see if other unauthorized charges have been made. Check your bank accounts to be sure they are in order as well.
You might receive bills from debt collectors, and unpaid charges will be reported to the credit bureaus. Fraud victims should respond immediately to debt collector communications in writing, keeping copies of all correspondence. Explain why you do not owe the money, and ask for copies of credit applications made in your name.
You should speak with a fraud specialist at each institute where unauthorized charges have been made. Good communications can often persuade lenders to drop actions against you, even if you failed to meet deadlines. Lenders need to maintain good public relations, and by showing your commitment to solving the problem, lenders will be more inclined to offer assistance. Communicate by certified mail to document the dates of your responses. Close any accounts that have unauthorized charges and those that you never opened in the first place.
Taking Charge of Your Reputation
It might take a great deal of paperwork to get matters resolved, but the alternative could cost thousands of dollars and destroy your credit. After uncovering identity fraud, you must commit to monitoring your credit more closely in the future. If mail has been stolen or diverted, you need to report the situation to the post office. Cancel any accounts that show signs of tampering. You should take the time to learn how to protect your personal information from thieves. If you suspect your Social Security information has been used to obtain a fraudulent driver’s license or job, report the fraud to the Social Security Administration. Choose a complex credit card PIN and safeguard it carefully. The Federal Trade Commission offers tremendously helpful resources or identity-theft at ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/idtheft/idt07.shtm.