Once identity thieves have access to your personal information, they can empty your bank account, accumulate charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts or even get medical treatment using your health insurance. Even worse, a thief might even be able to file a tax return in your name and receive your refund.
The best way to defend against identity theft is prevention. But, if that fails, you need to handle the situation correctly. If you notice any mysterious charges on your credit card, or your bank contacts you about corroborating charges, your account may be at risk. If you believe that someone has stolen your identity, minimize the damage by following these steps.
1) Set up a fraud alert – It is important you report that your identity has been stolen. Ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit file. A fraud alert puts a red flag on your credit report and notifies both lenders and creditors that they should take extra steps to confirm your identity before extending credit.
You should also order copies of your credit report from the credit bureaus. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if your report is inaccurate because of fraud. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. To report fraud, contact…
800.525.6285 (TTY: 800.255.0056) – PO Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348-5069
888.397.3742 (TTY: 800.972.0322) – PO Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
800.680.7289 (TTY: 800.553.7803) – Fraud Victim Assistance division, PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634-6970
2) Contact the creditors or financial institutions where fraudulent accounts have been opened – Creditors can include credit unions, banks, credit card companies, phone companies, utilities, and other lenders. Speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each creditor, and follow up with a written letter. It’s also very important to notify credit card companies in writing because that’s the procedure the law spells out for resolving credit card billing errors. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, and the last four digits of your Social Security Number for your PIN.
3) File a report with your local police or the police where the identity theft happened – Get a copy of the report in case the credit union, bank, credit card company, or others need proof of the crime in the future.
4) File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) – After you have a good idea on the extent of your financial problems, you need to file a report with the FTC. You only need to do this if you think that your identity has been stolen. The FTC doesn’t handle credit card fraud, so if only one account was touched you probably aren’t a victim of identity theft and you don’t need to submit a report.
What Are Your Next Steps? Identity thieves can cause problems with your personal finances but you can’t let them rule your life. There are some things you can do to take back control of your financial life:
5) Identify and close the account in question – The most common way to discover compromised accounts is noticing fraudulent charges after they’ve posted to your account. When you become aware of the situation, contact your financial institution as soon as possible, dispute the charges, and ask to either lock or close your account.
6) Look for other unauthorized charges – You need to review your other accounts and scan old statements for additional charges you don’t recognize. If you find any charges you didn’t make, call your financial institution and alert them of the potential problem. You may have to put a hold on a number of your accounts if your identity has in fact been stolen.
7) If someone has stolen your mail – new credit cards, bank statements, pre-approved credit offers, or worse, tax information; report it to your local postal inspector.
8) If you believe that an identity thief has interfered with your investments or a personal brokerage account, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). You can file a complaint with the SEC by visiting the Complaint Center. Be sure to include as much detail as possible.
9) If an identity thief has established new phone service in your name; is making unapproved calls that seem to come from – and are billed to – your cellular phone, contact your phone service provider immediately to cancel the account.
10) If you suspect that an unauthorized user to get a driver’s license is using your name or Social Security number, contact your Department of Motor Vehicles.
11) If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy under your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the Region where the bankruptcy was filed.
12) Most importantly, open new accounts and move forward. Most financial institutions recommend opening up new accounts following identity theft, even those that might not have been compromised.
After all is done, how do you make sure to reduce your risk of identity theft happening again? Make sure that you implement preventative measures going forward. There are plenty of ways to make you a less likely target and they all take less work than recovering from being a victim:
· Review Your Credit Reports On A Regular Basis
· Read Your Account and Billing Statements
· Review your Explanation of Medical Benefits
· Respond to Notices from the IRS
· Protect Your Personal Information
· Secure Your Social Security Number
· Protect Your Online Data and Personal Information
Most of these defensive measures are straightforward. By being diligent and protecting your personal information, you will find you never need these tips at all.