One of the fastest growing crimes in identity theft.
It’s the theft of information about you — information that can be used by fraudsters to pretend to be you and get access to a number of perks using your good name.
Whether your credit card number has been stolen, or whether someone is using your information to qualify for a car loan, it’s possible for someone else to pretend to be you.
Your stolen identity can impact you and your finances.
Obviously, if someone steals your credit card information and makes purchases, that can impact your abilities to use your own financial resources — at least until you take action. If someone is using your card for purchases, you could be denied when you go to make purchases later. And, if someone uses your information to open a loan, it shows up as your debt in your credit report. If the fraudster isn’t making payments, it’s your credit that is sunk.
Once you realize that your identity has been stolen, it’s important to take action.
Here are the steps to follow as soon as you realize that your identity has been compromised:
1. Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports
Your first move is to place a fraud alert on your credit file. You can do this by calling each of the three major credit bureaus:
- TransUnion: 800-680-7289
- Experian: 888-397-3742
- Equifax: 800-525-6285
As soon as you have this alert on your credit reports, you are entitled to a free copy of each report so that you can review it for fraudulent accounts.
The fraud alert helps prevents the ID thief from opening more accounts in your name because it requires the creditor to ask for better proof of identity. If you want to go a step further, you can place a credit freeze on your reports in order to completely cut off the ability to open credit in your name.
The fraud alert can help prevent the fraudster from doing any more damage, and you have access to your information so that you can properly identify fraudulent accounts and charges.
You aren’t liable for these items, so properly identifying them is important if you want to make sure you aren’t further paying for the identity theft.
2. Close Affected Accounts
Your next step is to make sure that affected accounts are closed.
If your credit card information has been compromised, ask for a new number (you don’t actually have to close the account, and it shouldn’t be listed as a closed account on your report).
If a loan has been opened in your name, contact the creditor and make sure that the loan is closed and the debt is discharged.
If your bank account has been raided, close it immediately and open a new account.
It’s important to follow up in writing, disputing the charges, and providing copies (never originals) of documents to support your claim. Ask for copies of the credit application the fraudster used to open an account in your name. Make sure that you send all correspondence via registered mail so that you are sure that creditors and others receive it. In return, you need to ask for a letter from bankers and creditors stating that the account is closed and that the debts have been discharged.
As you set up new accounts, make sure to use completely different PINs and passwords, and be careful about the information you use to secure the accounts. Ask that correspondence only use the last four digits of your Social Security Number, instead of using the entire number.
3. File a Report with Law Enforcement
Once you have contacted the credit bureaus, and contacted creditors to close accounts, head down to your local law enforcement and file a report.
You can file a “Miscellaneous Incidents” report, or asked to be directed to the proper agency if you aren’t sure what to do.
Honestly, there probably isn’t much the police can do to track down the identity thief. However, filing the report can boost your credibility, and help you as you dispute fraudulent charges.
Make sure that you get a copy of the police report; at the very least, take down the number assigned to the report.
4. Report the Fraud to the FTC
When you are done with the police report, go to www.ftc.gov/idtheft to file a compliant.
The Federal Trade Commission uses the information provided to look for patterns, and hopefully track down different identity thieves.
Keep a record of the complaint ID number, or print out a confirmation. You want to make sure that you keep this information for your records, since it can help as you dispute fraudulent charges.
It can be difficult to clear up identity theft.
However, you need to do your best. Moving forward, make sure that you check your credit report regularly for fraudulent accounts, and make sure that you also carefully reconcile bank and credit card statements so that you can quickly identify fraud in the future.
I’ve definitely been a victim. Someone bought a house in my name!
Serious? How did you find out about it and what did you do once you found out?
I found out a couple of years ago when I was buying my house/applying for student loans. They bought it when I was 13. They’ve been paying the mortgage on time and it hasn’t affected my credit score. The bank won’t tell me what the address is though, I’m assuming it’s because they know I’ll drive over there and hurt people.
Someone tried to steal my identitily, but a sharp credit manager stopped them. Although I shred evertything with personal information, they were able to try to take my identitiy. It turns out, they must have taken information from a patient file from some office. They had an old address and my Social Security number. I was able to freeze my credit bureau accounts to protect myself.
Thankfully my identity has never been stolen (as far as I know). What steps would you recommend I take to make it harder for thieves to steal my identity?
Unfortunately, there’s no surefire way to prevent it. Information about you is stored on databases everywhere. If Choicepoint gets hacked (and it happened), or if the PlayStation network is hacked, you’re out there. Even records improperly disposed of can be a source of information. In order to reduce the chances of having your identity stolen, be careful about where you give out your information. Also, do your best to choose strong passwords, and don’t use the same password for everything. Even after taking all the precautions, you still need to be vigilant.
Knock on wood. It hasn’t happened to me.
So far, it hasn’t happened to me, but it is always a worry of mine. Great post!
Great article! Strong passwords and protecting your laptop/phone when using public Wi-Fi are definite musts. Unfortunately hackers are getting more and more sneaky so you always need to play it safe and regularly check your bank statements and credit report.