On Tuesday, in Part One: Preventing Identity Theft, we looked at various ways of keeping your identity safe. In Part Two: Credit Card Skimming, we examined some additional, free, methods of doing so as well as how to avoid credit card skimming. Today, in the third and final part of this series, we look at actions to take post-identity theft.
What Do You Do When Someone Steals Your Identity?
If you suspect identity theft, act immediately to minimize negative consequences.
Put a fraud alert and/or security freeze on your credit reports. A fraud alert puts a red flag on your credit report and notifies lenders and creditors that they should take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. Initial fraud alerts are free and remain in place for 90 days. In some cases, extended fraud alerts incur a small fee, but under most circumstances, fraud alert services are free to victims of identity theft.
Another option is to place a security freeze on your credit reports. A freeze prevents creditors (except those with whom you already do business) from accessing your credit report(s) at all. Most new applications will automatically be declined because without access to your file, the creditor will have no way to evaluate your credit. Not every state allows credit freezes to be placed by consumers who are not victims of identity theft, but every state allows identity theft victims to freeze their files. Some states charge a fee to freeze the file, and another fee to thaw it.
Contact any institution directly affected. If you know your credit card was stolen, immediately report the theft to the credit card issuer. If your checkbook or debit card was stolen, contact your financial institution. Keep a list of what’s in your wallet, along with the contact information for each item.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). File an Identity Theft Affidavit and a police report and create an Identity Theft Report. You can file your report online, by phone (toll-free): 1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338); TDD (toll-free): 1-866-653-4261, or by mail — 600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington DC 20580. The FTC will provide you with information about what to do next, depending on the type of fraud.
File a police report. To complete the Identity Theft Report, you’ll need to contact your local police and report the theft. Be sure to get a copy of the police report and/or the report number. Both your police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit combine to create your Identity Theft Report. Your Report is essential when working with the credit reporting agencies or any other entities the identity thief may have contacted to open accounts in your name.
Report the theft to the Social Security Administration. If your social security number has been stolen, contact the Social Security Administration (800-269-0271) and the Internal Revenue Service (800-829-0433). It’s important to talk to both agencies if you think your Social Security number has been compromised.
Contact the Post Office. If you have reason to believe the identity thief may have submitted a fraudulent change-of-address to the post office or has used the U.S. mail to commit the fraud against you, contact the Postal Inspection Service. This is the law enforcement and security branch of the post office. Fill out the necessary paperwork.
These are only the first few steps. Total recovery from identity theft is a long, drawn-out process.
How Do You Recover from Identity Theft?
Once you have discovered the fraud and taken the initial steps to freeze or protect your accounts, take a deep breath and begin to repair the damage. The first step is to close any new accounts opened fraudulently in your name. Then, work with your bank and creditors to remove fraudulent charges from your accounts. Next, contact the credit reporting agencies and have the errors corrected. Finally, think about adding an extended fraud alert or credit freeze on your accounts.
Depending on your situation, you might need to take additional steps. If your social security number was compromised, contact the Social Security Administration and report it. You also need to replace all of your government issued IDs.
One unpleasant task is keeping debt collectors from trying to collect on fraudulent debts.
Additionally, you may have to work with law enforcement and creditors for months to clear your name of any criminal charges due to the identity theft. For certain types of accounts, you might have to contact additional offices. These include utility companies, phone service providers, government benefit offices, student loans, accounts at other banks, rental landlords, your personal finance officer, and the courts if you have a bankruptcy filed in your name.
Keep Yourself Safe
In our technologically bound and increasingly digital world, identity theft has become a major racket. Be sure to stay safe by staying smart. Do everything you can at home to increase your security, but also be wary of public Wi-Fi spots, be on the lookout for skimmers, and keep an eye on all of your financial and credit records. If you become a victim of identity theft, be immediately proactive in reporting the fraud and work with law enforcement and the agencies to fix your credit.