A few weeks ago, I wrote about preventative steps to take – but what if your identity is stolen? If it’s happened to you, you know how vulnerable it can make you feel. It has the potential to rock your sense of security, especially when, as is often the case, you don’t even know how or when your cards or information got lifted. Welcome to the new world of identity theft.
Identity theft is used to describe crimes ranging from stealing and using someone else’s credit cards to filing false tax forms to collecting someone else’s refund or using stolen health insurance information to get treatment. Identity theft can disrupt your finances, credit rating and more.
What can you do about it? In most cases, the best defense against identity theft is to be diligent in monitoring your credit activity, watching for odd charges and letting your creditors know immediately if you see something suspicious. But sometimes, in spite of our best efforts, identity theft happens.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, offers three immediate steps to counteract the potential damage from identity theft. Note, these are only the initial steps, but arguably the most important:
1. Place an Initial Fraud Alert — There are three nationwide credit reporting companies – Experian, TransUnion and Equifax – that keep records of your credit history. If you think someone has misused your personal or financial information, call any one of the three and ask them to put an initial fraud alert on your credit report. The company you call must tell the other companies about your alert. This initial alert stays on your report for 90 days. Why should you do this? An initial fraud alert is your first line of defense if someone is using your credit identity. The fraud alert can make it harder for someone to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit in your name.
2. Order Your Credit Reports – Placing a fraud report with one of the national credit reporting companies allows you to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three companies. This is regardless of the company with which you place the alert. When you read the credit report, you may see unauthorized charges or even new accounts that have been opened. You will want to contact the affected businesses or entities as soon as possible to report the fraud. When you call, ask for the fraud department. Most companies, especially credit card companies and banks have entire departments dedicated to fraud prevention and resolution. Ask for the name of the person to whom you’re speaking and keep good records of phone calls and letters. Ask if you have a case, incident or encounter number so that you can refer back to individual conversations.
3. Create an Identity Theft Report – According to the FTC, creating an identity theft report involves three steps:
- Submit a complaint about the theft to the FTC. When you finish writing all the details, the printed copy of the report serves as an Identity Theft Affidavit.
- File a police report and get a copy of the police report or a report number.
- Attach your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report to make the Identity Theft Report.
With the identity theft report, you now have a valid tool for dealing with credit reporting companies, debt collectors, and businesses that have open accounts in your name. It will allow you to have fraudulent information removed from your credit report, stop collection for debt you didn’t compile and more.
Identity theft has become increasingly prevalent in our society, and it’s up to each of us to protect ourselves. For more in-depth details and further steps, visit the FTC site here.