What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen
Protecting your identity and personal information is especially important in today's digital age. Look for suspicious activity like accounts you didn't open or purchases you didn't make. If you suspect you're a target of identity theft, read this article to learn what steps you can take to help protect yourself.
“I don’t remember opening that credit card account. And I certainly didn’t buy those items I’m being billed for.”
Maybe you never opened that account, but someone else did…someone who used your name and personal information to commit fraud. When someone uses your name, Social Security number (SSN), credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information for his or her use without your knowledge, it’s a crime.
Unfortunately, you may not know your identity’s been stolen until you notice that something’s amiss: you may get bills for a credit card account you never opened, your credit report may include debts you never knew you had, a billing cycle may pass without your receiving a statement, or you may see charges on your bills that you didn’t sign for, didn’t authorize, and don’t know anything about.
Identity Theft Warning Signs:
- You have unexplained withdrawals or transfers from your credit union or bank account.
- You are not receiving regular bills or other mail.
- You receive bills for unfamiliar accounts in your name.
- Merchants refuse your checks.
- Debt collectors call about debts that aren’t yours.
- You see unfamiliar accounts on your credit report.
- Medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use.
- The IRS notifies you that more than one tax return was filed in your name.
- You receive notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account.
Reporting Identity Theft
When you believe identity theft has taken place, here are steps you can take:
First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert including a statement that states that your creditors should get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name. This makes it harder for an identity thief to open an account in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit. The initial alert stays active for 90 days.
At the same time, ask the credit bureaus for copies of your credit reports. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of fraud. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
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Second, contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department, and follow up in writing. Following up with a letter is one of the procedures spelled out in the Fair Credit Billing Act for resolving errors on credit billing statements, including charges that you have not made.
Third, create an identity theft report to help you deal with credit reporting agencies, debt collectors and businesses that opened accounts in your name. Submit a complaint about the theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). After you complete the FTC complaint report, print a copy. It will print as an Identity Theft Affidavit. Take your Identity Theft Affidavit to the police department and file a report. Obtain a copy of the police report or the report number. Attach your Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report to make an Identity Theft Report.
The Identity Theft Report can be used to:
- Get fraudulent information removed from your credit report
- Stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft or from selling the debt to another company for collection
- Get information from companies about accounts the identity thief opened or misused
Although identity thieves can wreak havoc on your personal finances, there are some things you can do to take control of the situation. Here’s how to handle some of the most common forms of identity theft.
If an identity thief has stolen your mail for access to new credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers and tax information or falsified change-of-address forms, he/she has committed a crime. Report it to your local postal inspector.
If you discover that an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing credit card account, close the account. When you open a new account, ask that a password be used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. Avoid the same information and numbers when you create a Personal Identification Number (PIN).
If you have reason to believe that an identity thief has accessed your financial accounts, checking account or ATM card, close the accounts immediately. When you open new accounts, insist on password-only access. If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment. If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card and get another with a new PIN.
If an identity thief has established new phone or wireless service in your name and is making unauthorized calls that appear to come from-and are billed to-your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and calling card. Get new accounts and new PINs.
If it appears that someone is using your SSN when applying for a job, get in touch with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify the accuracy of your reported earnings and that your name is reported correctly. Call (800) 772-1213 to check your Social Security Statement.
In addition, the SSA may issue you a new SSN at your request if, after trying to resolve the problems brought on by identity theft, you continue to experience problems. Consider this option carefully. A new SSN may not resolve your identity theft problems, and may actually create new problems. For example, a new SSN does not necessarily ensure a new credit record because credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old SSN with those from your new SSN. Even when the old credit information is not associated with your new SSN, the absence of any credit history under your new SSN may make it more difficult for you to get credit. And finally, there’s no guarantee that an identity thief wouldn’t also misuse a new SSN.
If you suspect that your name or SSN is being used by an identity thief to get a driver’s license, report it to your Department of Motor Vehicles. Also, if your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number.
Taking the steps outlined here should, in most cases, resolve your identity theft problems, but identity theft or related credit problems may reoccur. Stay alert to new instances of identity theft. Notify the company or creditor that’s involved immediately. Follow up in writing.
Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit bureaus every year to check on their accuracy and whether they include only those debts and loans you’ve incurred. This could be very important if you’re considering a major purchase, such as a house or a car.