What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen
Posted: July 31, 2012
Too often we are in a hurry, talking to a friend, or just not paying attention to the person who to whom you are handing a credit card for a purchase. Maybe you’ve given your credit card to a restaurant server who took it out of your sight to a cash register and brought it back to you for your signature. Did you just put your credit card, your personal identity and your good credit at risk? Time will tell.
When an imposter takes your name, Social Security number, credit card number or other piece of personal information for their use, it’s a crime. The challenging part is you may not know your personal information has been stolen until you experience one or all of the following:
• Receive credit card bills for accounts you never opened
• A billing cycle may pass without your receiving a statement
• See charges on your credit card bill that you didn’t authorize or know anything about
• Debts you never had appear on your credit report
• Debt collectors calling you insisting on payment for accounts you know nothing about
• Being denied credit, or being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high interest rate for no apparent reason when you have no or little debt
Although most credit card companies may call when they see unusual charges or activity on your account, the damage at that point has already begun. What do you do now? If you suspect that you’ve become a victim of identity theft, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that you take the following four steps as soon as possible. Note that it is extremely important to keep written records of your conversations and copies of all correspondence concerning the issue.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your reports. A fraud alert will help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies: Equifax 1-800-525-6285, Experian 1-888-397-3742, and TransUnion 1-800-680-7289. Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you’re entitled to order free copies of your credit reports. Once you receive the reports, review them carefully. Look for accounts you didn’t open, debts on your accounts, and inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted.
The initial alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days. You also have the option for keeping it on for 7 years.
File a report with your local police where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the police report if at all possible as you will need this to deal with creditors who need proof of the crime. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. If you are traveling and receive a call from your credit card company, ask them to close the account and send you a new card with the new account number. If you’ve misplaced your card while traveling or shopping locally, call the credit card company right away. You should also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT.
Everyone is entitled to a FREE credit report once a year from the three consumer reporting companies. It is a good policy to attain these every year. To order your free annual credit report from one or all of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies, visit www.annualcreditreport.com call toll-free 1-877-322-8228. A form can also be printed from the ftc.gov/credit website and mailed.
The FTC recommends, once you have resolved your identity theft dispute with the company, asking for a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed accounts and has discharged the fraudulent debts.
Cleaning up your good name can become challenging and time consuming. The best thing you can do is to guard your personal information as much as possible. Don’t give out personal information over the phone, on the internet, or in person unless you are confident that it will be handled appropriately. Do not carry your Social Security card in your wallet unless you know you’ll need it that particular day. It is the key to who you are, what you own now and in the future. Do not let your credit card out of your sight when purchasing a service. Don’t ignore the signals that something may be amiss with your financial status. Order your free credit reports once a year, review your bills and statements monthly, and never give out personal information when it is not necessary.
Source: FTC Facts for Consumers