No one ever thinks identity theft and fraud can happen to them. Unfortunately, in today’s age it’s almost a matter of when, not if. What should you do to help protect yourself? The key is to know the steps to take ahead of time so that if it happens, you can stay calm, act swiftly, and get on with your newly recovered life. Here are the most important first steps you should take and some helpful advice when doing so.
Immediately call one of three credit reporting companies and report that you are an identity theft victim. Reach them at Equifax 1‑800‑525‑6285 | Experian 1‑888‑397‑3742 | TransUnion 1‑800‑680‑7289. Ask the company to put a fraud alert on your credit file and confirm that they will contact the other two companies about your case. There is no cost to do this and the alert lasts for 90 days at which time you should renew it. Mark your calendar as a reminder to call them back in 90 days.
After you place an initial fraud alert, the credit reporting company will explain your rights and how you can get a copy of your credit report. Placing an initial fraud alert entitles you to a free credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting companies.
If you find that some of your accounts have been tampered with, contact the related businesses. Talk to someone in the fraud department and follow up in writing. Make sure you send your letters by certified mail and ask for a return receipt. This creates a record of your communications if you need it later.
A credit freeze means potential creditors cannot get your credit report. That makes it less likely an identity thief can open new accounts in your name. The cost to place and lift a freeze depends on state law. In many states, identity theft victims can place a freeze for free, but in others, victims must pay a fee, which is usually about $10.
- Contact each credit reporting company. Equifax 1‑800‑525‑6285 | Experian 1‑888‑397‑3742 | TransUnion 1‑800‑680‑7289
- Report that you are an identity theft victim
- Ask the company to put a freeze on your credit file
- Pay the fee required by state law
Contact your banks, investment brokers, and credit card companies. Most, if not all, of these companies have departments specifically for fraud and identity theft.
- An identity thief may steal your paper checks, misuse the account number from the bottom of your checks, or open a new account in your name. If this happens, ask the bank to cancel the stolen checks and close your accounts.
- Your liability for credit card charges that you didn’t authorize is limited to $50 per card. To dispute fraudulent charges, contact the credit card issuer within 60 days of the day the credit card issuer sends you the bill showing the fraudulent charges. Remember to keep track of your statements. If one doesn’t arrive, the thief may have changed your address to theirs.
- If an identity thief has tampered with your investments or brokerage accounts, contact your broker, account manager, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).
- Confirm whether or not you should replace your credit cards. Usually this is an automatic action item on the part of your credit card company.
Tell the debt collector you are a victim of identity theft and don’t owe the debt. Send copies of your police report, Identity Theft Report, or other documents that detail the identity theft. The collector must suspend collection efforts until it sends you written verification of the debt. If the collector works for another company, it must tell the other company you are an identity theft victim.
- Submit a complaint about the theft to the FTC. Go here: www.ftc.gov/complaint. When you finish writing all the details, print a copy of the report. It will print as an Identity Theft Affidavit.
- File a police report about the identity theft, and get a copy of the police report or the report number.
- Bring your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit when you file a police report. Attach your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report to make an Identity Theft Report.
In some states, police must take your report. Visit www.naag.org to see what your state law requires. If the police won’t take a report about the identity theft, ask if you can file a “miscellaneous incidents” report, or go to a different police station, or the sheriff’s department, state police or federal authority.
An identity thief may steal your Social Security number and sell it, or use the number to get a job or other benefits. Contact the Social Security Administration when you discover any misuse of your Social Security number.
- Contact the Social Security Administration - www.socialsecurity.gov
- Or use the Fraud Hotline 1‑800‑269‑0271 |1-866-501-2101 (TTY)
Under federal law, you have a right to know what’s in your medical files. Contact each doctor, clinic, hospital, pharmacy, laboratory, health plan, and anywhere you believe the thief has used your information.
If a provider denies your request, you have a right to appeal. Contact the person the provider lists in its Notice of Privacy Practices, the patient representative, or the ombudsman. Explain the situation and ask for your file. If the provider refuses to provide your records within 30 days of your written request, you may complain to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights at www.hhs.gov/ocr
A health care provider is responsible for correcting the errant records. It is the law.
There are many signs that your information is still being used after clearing up a theft.
- you see unexplained withdrawals from your bank account
- debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours
- you find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
- medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use above your benefits limit
- the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notifies you that more than 1 tax return was filed in your name.
- you get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
If your government-issued identification – for example your driver’s license, or Medicare card – has been lost, stolen, or fraudulently misused, contact the agency that issued the identification.
- Contact the Department of Motor Vehicles in your state
- Cancel the lost or stolen item and get a replacement
- Ask the agency to put a note in your file so no one else can get a license or ID in your name
If you cannot locate it, contact the U.S. Department of State and report it missing. Here are two ways to find the correct location.
- Find a local Department of State office online or in the Blue Pages of the phone book.
When you are a victim of identity theft, what you did and when you did after the event is very important. There is a lot to keep track of and you should keep a journal handy where you record the entire story. Include when you contacted individuals and organizations about the theft, the dates of contact, what you talked about, copies of any documents or reports you were asked to fill out, case numbers, affidavits, the names of the people you talked to, and any instructions that they gave. If you are comfortable with a computer, keep a digital record and store it in a very secure place online.
Identity theft can be a very challenging experience. But you can and will get through it. Stay calm and write everything down because your brain will be going a mile a minute. Include easy to forget important details, dates, names of people who are helping you etc, and methodically execute each step of recovery. Be prepared to monitor your identity for several years after. Be secure in the knowledge that you will recover your identity and after it is all over, that your identity will be more secure than ever.
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Photo Credits: Identity Theft by www.BackgroundNow.com via Flickr; Check Man, Cross Man and Jump Man © ioannis kounadeas - Fotolia.com