What to Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen?
PART 1 – Online Security – How Best to Avoid Identity Theft while Online
and PART 2 – At Home – Avoid Identity Theft by Being Proactive
Credit Card Theft versus Identity Theft
Credit card theft refers to one of your credit card numbers being used for a fraudulent transaction. These days, the banks often catch this before you do – when they notice, for example, a large transaction occur in a place you do not typically visit. In cases like these, the bank will call you and ask you if made that purchase – and if you say “no”, then they will close that account for you, and issue you a new credit card. Very simple – and very quick … you’ll be without your credit card for maybe a week or so, typically. Now if the bank does not catch a fraudulent transaction, then it is up to you to catch it – and immediately report it to the bank or card issuer. In that case, the card issuer will close your account, and send you a new card – and in neither case are you liable for the fraudulent transactions. [Be sure to read your card issuer agreement to know your responsibilities/liabilities, and also the card issuer’s liability limits in the event of fraud]. Identity theft refers to someone using your personal information to pretend to be you, and to open accounts in your name.
Identity theft is far more serious than credit card theft – and is a lot harder to clean up. Often in cases of identity theft, your social security number and other personal information is sold many times to many different criminals – and they attempt to use your good credit to steal as much as they can before you become aware of it. So it definitely pays to be extra careful with all of your personal information, and follow all of the suggestions in this three part article.
What to Do If You Have Been the Victim of Identity Theft
Immediately upon learning that accounts are being opened up in your name, in this order you should:
- Close any accounts that have been tampered with
- Place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit file with the three credit reporting agencies
- Obtain a current copy of your credit report
- Place a credit freeze on your credit file
- Report the identity theft to the police, and file a police report
- Place a 7-year fraud alert on your credit file
- Contact each of your banks and credit card issuers, and inform them that you have been the victim of identity theft
- Sign up with a credit monitoring service to protect yourself in the future
I’ll elaborate on each of the above, and give you the current contact information.
1) Close any accounts that have been tampered with
If you followed my advice in Part 2 of this article, you should have locked away at home a list of all of your credit card numbers, and their respective 800 numbers. Call the 800 number of each account that you know has been compromised, and tell them that you believe you are the victim of identity theft, and that fraudulent transactions have occurred on your account with them. Ask them to close the existing account, and to re-open a new account and send you a new card. Follow any suggestions they give you.
2) Immediately place a 90-day Fraud Alert on your credit file with each of the three credit reporting agencies. Here is their contact information:
Equifax: web: www.alerts.equifax.com phone: 1-800-525-6285
Experian: web: www.experian.com/fraud phone: 1-888-397-3742
Transunion: web: www.transunion.com phone: 1-800-680-7289
You can later file a 7-year Fraud Alert on your credit file – but you have to file and obtain a copy of a police report in order to do that. First get the 90-day Fraud Alert going immediately – before any further damage to your credit occurs.
3) Obtain a current copy of your credit report. If you followed my earlier suggestion of subscribing to:
Get Equifax Credit Watch Gold 3-in-1 Now!
Then you can download one quickly and easily. If you are not a member, then simply do whatever is necessary to get a copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. If you have to pay for it in order to download it, then fine – expediency is key here. You want to know if there are any surprises on it – there could be a bunch of new accounts that a criminal has opened in your name, and you will need to know about those when you file the police report.
4) Place a security freeze on your credit file.
This security freeze will not help with any existing accounts or fraud that has already occurred, but it prevents your credit report from being given out to anyone else unless you, personally, unfreeze it. The goal here is to prevent someone unauthorized from successfully applying for new credit in your name without your consent. You can request a security freeze at each of the three credit reporting agencies, as follows:
Experian: phone: 1 888 397 3742 web: Experian Security Freeze
Equifax: phone: 800-525-6285 web: Equifax Security Freeze
Transunion: phone: 1-888-909-8872 web: Transunion Security Freeze
Before you start the security freeze process, it would be best for you to visit each of the above websites, and learn what the fees and policies are, and what your rights and responsibilities are. In some cases (depending on things like your age, or the state you live in) – a security freeze might be free. Or you might be required to submit a police report in order to get a free security freeze, etc. Just start with the above websites.
5) Report the identity theft to the police, and file a written police report.
This means that you physically walk into your local police department, and file a written report describing everything you know about your identity theft situation. Bring a copy of our current credit report with you so you can itemize any fraudulent accounts that have been setup in your name. Be sure to leave the police department with a copy of the police report you just filed – as you’ll need to send copies of that to the three credit reporting agencies when you request the 7-year fraud alert.
6) Place a 7-year Fraud Alert on your credit file.
Once you have a copy of the police report of your identity theft, go back to each of the credit reporting agency websites where you reported your 90-day fraud alert, and this time download the forms necessary to establish your 7-year Fraud Alert. You need to include a copy of the police report, and mail it in to those agencies. Be sure to follow the directions from each of the agencies carefully.
7) Contact each of your banks and credit card issuers, and inform them individually that you have been the victim of identity theft – and follow their individual instructions. Be sure to tell them that you just put in place both fraud alerts and credit freezes.
8) If you have not already, consider subscribing to this (or a similar) service:
Get Equifax Credit Watch Gold 3-in-1 Now!
as it can help alert you to additional damage or changes to your credit file, as it happens. At least you will be that much better informed.
If you want to know more about identity theft and credit fraud, the following Web sites are excellent sources of information and additional contact information.
US Government’s Web site for identity theft:
Federal Trade Commission website for identity theft:
Everything contained in this three part article represents an opinion of midlifebachelor.com, and our suggestions to you. The contents of these articles is in no way a guarantee that performing the various actions described will insulate or protect you from identity theft nor credit card fraud. Our purpose is simply to better educate you about different options available to help you with situations like those discussed herein.