Identity theft victims reported losing more than $15 billion in 2014. That’s more than the combined losses from burglary, motor vehicle theft and other property theft in the same period. While it’s no surprise that identity theft can leave you feeling vulnerable, there are things you can do to take some control.
Step 1: Order your credit report when you realize you’ve become a victim. You need to quickly find out about any errors showing up on your report. Go to annualcreditreport.com for free copies of your report from all three nationwide credit-reporting companies-Experian, Equifax and Transunion.
If you see any errors or fraudulent charges, report them to the credit reporting companies right away. They will investigate those items and then forward the information to the business that reported it. The business has 30 days to respond.
If the business providing the loan finds an error, it must notify the credit reporting company so your file can be corrected. If your credit changes because of the business’ investigation, the reporting company will send you a letter with the results.
Step 2: Place a fraud alert to make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. Call any one of the three nationwide credit reporting companies and ask them to put an initial fraud alert on your credit report. They must contact the other two companies about your alert.
While there’s an alert on your report, anytime a business performs a credit inquiry they will need to verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. This may require contacting you, so be sure you’ve updated your credit report with your current contact information. The alert will stay on your report for 90 days and allows you to order an additional free copy of your report from each of the three credit reporting companies.
Step 3: Consider a credit freeze. A Credit Freeze, also known as a Security Freeze, gives you maximum control over who has access to your credit. It can stop a thief from opening new accounts in your name because lenders and other creditors won’t be able to get your credit report.
With a Credit Freeze in place, even you will have to take special steps to apply for credit. You can still open new accounts, apply for a job, rent an apartment, buy insurance, refinance your mortgage, or do anything else that requires your credit report. But businesses will need to verify your identity so they may need to contact you and you will have to call the reporting company to lift the freeze in order for the business to review your report. Again, be sure they have your most current information through your credit report.
A few things to know: Due to stringent laws, you’ll have to contact each reporting company separately to place a Credit Freeze. Also, placing a credit freeze does not affect your credit score. Finally, the cost depends on where you live. If you are 65 or older, or a victim of identity theft and submit a valid investigative or incident report, complaint with a law enforcement agency or the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV), the fee will be waived.
Step 4: File an Identity Theft Report. An Identity Theft Report is a great weapon. You can use it 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. You can also use it to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report, and to get information about accounts the identity thief opened or misused.
Filing an Identity Theft Report is simple: Submit a complaint about the theft to the FTC. When you finish writing all the details, print a copy of the report. It will print as an Identity Affidavit.
File a police report about your identity theft, and get a copy of the police report or the report number. (Make sure to bring your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit and attach it to your police report).
Some credit reporting companies may ask for more information or documentation than the Identity Theft Report includes. It depends on the policies of the credit reporting company and the business that sent the information about you to the reporting company.
Step 5: Report fraud on existing accounts. For any of your accounts that show fraudulent charges, contact the business right away. Explain that you’re an identity theft victim. Close the account and follow their reporting process. You can ask if they’ll accept your Identity Theft Report. Additionally, write to the fraud department of each business. By law, they have to review your letter, investigate your complaint, and tell you the results of their investigation. If the information is wrong, the business must tell the credit reporting company. Make sure to ask for a letter from the business confirming that it removed the fraudulent information.
On any credit card or bank account that remains open, take steps to protect yourself. Change your password and place code words on accounts that allow them. Code words are offered on some accounts as an added level of security. You can typically choose your code word. You might consider using something only you would know and is not public knowledge. Finally, continually monitor your accounts, keeping an eye out for any suspicious activity.