Identity Theft

10 Steps You Should Take if You Believe You’re a Victim of Identity Theft

Every 19 minutes, someone becomes an identity theft victim (according to U.S. News & World Report). Not only is that a scary statistic, but it should wake you up to the fact that that person could very easily be you.

If you believe (or know) that you are a victim of identity theft, you need to jump into quick action. Here are ten steps you should take right away.

1. Bring Attention to the Problem Child
Once you figure out which account has been perpetrated, spring into action by contacting the financial institution, creditor, or company that holds the account. Call customer service, let them know what is going on with the account, and talk with someone in their fraud department to take the necessary stops.

You want to lock down the problem account, so any fraudulent accounts or charges can be reversed and to prevent any additional accounts opening in your name or charges from being made.

2. Close & Reopen Accounts
For any accounts that have been compromised, the financial institution or creditor may suggest that you close the account. You can reopen an account with the same company or institution, but with a different account number, so that the person or people responsible for the identity theft cannot cause any further damage with this particular account (or accounts)

3. Check All Your Accounts
Never assume that the account you’ve discovered someone opened under your name or the charges made to your credit card account is the only account that has come under fire.

Pull out your bank statements and statements for all of your credit accounts. Scour the statements and accounts for anything you don’t recognize. If you see anything, contact the company right away to report it. Keep a close eye on account transactions going forward..

Finally, contact each of your creditors and financial institutions to let them know that you are a victim of identity theft. Even if it does not affect the account you have with the creditor, they can put an alert on your account to flag unusual transactions.

4. Pull Your Credit Reports
Contact each of the three credit bureaus (Equifax 1-800-525-6285, TransUnion 1-800-680-7289, and Experian 1-888-397-3742) to request a copy of your credit report. Just like you scoured your account statements, go through all three of your credit reports with a fine-tooth comb. Report anything that is inaccurate or not yours to both the credit bureau and to the creditor.

(By the way: You are entitled to one free credit report from each of the credit bureaus each year.)

5. Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports
Whether or not you see anything out of the ordinary on your credit reports, report the identity theft to each of the three credit bureaus. Have them put a fraud alert on your credit report, so that nobody can open a new credit account without contacting you to verify specific information first.

Yes, this means that if you are opening a legitimate credit account, it is going to delay you because the credit bureau contacts you first before opening the account.

(By the way: When you’re a victim of identity theft, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus. This is an addition to the one per year you’re entitled to receive for free anyway.)

6. File a Police Report
Contact your local police department or go into the local police department. You have to file a police report (even if you don’t know who the perpetrator is). Some financial institutions require a copy of the police report to reverse any fraudulent charges that have already been made or to reverse any future charges that are fraudulently made to your accounts.

7. Prevent it from Happening Again
While you may never know how your accounts were compromised, you can set up accounts to help prevent future fraud from occurring.

      Use strong passwords online.
      Change your passwords to new strong passwords on a regular basis.
      Leave your social security card at home (instead of carrying it around in your wallet).
      Never share personal information, such as your social security number, address, phone number, birthdate, or other identifying information with anyone that doesn’t need to know it.
      Shred documents that have your personal information on it, including name, address, phone number, and account numbers.

8. Alert the Social Security Administration
Your social security number is the number one way that thieves can open new accounts under your name. It can prevent thieves from opening new accounts using your social security number or applying for employment using your social security number.

9. File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
If you believe your identity has been stolen, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You do not have to do this if you think just one of your accounts was compromised. You only need to file this report if you think your identity is being used fraudulently. You can file online or contact the FTC Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877- 438-4338.

10. Keep Thorough Records
Document everything you do and keep track of every phone conversation you have while working through the other nine steps. Jot down the dates, names of the people you speak with, and a summary of what you discuss. You may need to refer back to this information as you work out the kinks that falling victim to identity theft can create.

With the increasing use of the Internet, identity theft is on the rise. It’s easier now than ever for thieves to obtain your personal information and account information online (although there are other ways they obtain your info, too). If you think you’re a victim of identity theft, it’s not something you want to ignore and it is something you want to spring into action to correct right away.

Have YOU ever had a brush with idenetity theft? What was your plan of action?

About the author

Kristie McCauley

Kristie Lorette McCauley is an award-winning expert on personal finance, mortgages, and credit. She has published articles on major finance and credit blogs, such as Yahoo! Finance, Quizzle, Money Crashers, and BankRate. She is also the author of books, such as How to Use the Equity in Your Home or Business Today to Invest for Tomorrow and How to Open & Operate a Financially Successful Personal Financial Planning Business.

Leave a Comment