Of all the things another person could steal from you, one of the most damaging is your good name. Having done so, the damage they could wreak upon your life is almost incalculable. It can literally take years to contain the chaos this can create. The “good news”, for better or for worse, it’s happened so many times to so many people there is now an established set of procedures for how to respond to identity theft.
Here’s some information if it’s happened to you.
Examine Your Credit Report
Pull copies of each of your three credit reports the moment you get an inkling your identity may have been stolen. Examine them carefully, looking for any unfamiliar accounts or activity.
Contact the lender(s) in question right away. Inform them your identity has been compromised and they’ve been defrauded. Most credit card issuers will forgive fraudulent charges against you upon notification of and being provided with proof of the transgression.
Free copies of your credit reports can be had at AnnualCreditReport.com.
File a Fraud Alert
Experian, Equifax and Transunion have agreements in place to share fraud alerts with one another. If you think your personally identifiable information has been compromised, alerting any one of the three reporting bureaus will automatically notify the other two.
With a fraud alert on your credit report, lenders will be required to contact you in person before extending credit based upon your information. This gives you an opportunity to catch anyone who might be trying to use your identity to commit fraud.
Freeze Your Credit Report
This functions similarly to a fraud alert in that lenders cannot automatically extend credit upon receiving an application. However, a freeze prevents anyone from even seeing your credit history. This means lenders can’t even view your credit report with the intention of extending a pre-approved or pre-qualified offer.
Moreover, with a freeze in place, you’ll have to provide a PIN to the credit bureaus whenever you apply for credit, a job, insurance or an apartment. This could cause delays in situations in which you need quick approval.
However, the trade-off is your credit history is completely sealed. With that said, it’s always a good practice to talk to a professional debt consultant concerning any procedures.
Notify the Federal Trade Commission
Log on to IdentityTheft.org to alert the FTC to the perpetration of the crime. The site has step-by-step instructions to help you file the report. You’ll also find information to help you recover from the ordeal.
This is a good first step before filing a police report and providing proof of the crime to your creditors in an effort to get them to waive any fraudulent charges.
File a Police Report & Inform Your Creditors
Contact your local police department, inform them of the commission of the crime against you and ask to file a report. You’ll need this to demonstrate your veracity to your creditors. After all, criminals do charge things and file false reports with lenders in an effort to get out of paying for them.
You will also need to advise different government agencies, depending upon the nature of the information stolen:
|Type of Identity Theft||Who to Notify|
|Driver’s License Fraud||State Department of Motor Vehicles|
|Social Security Number Fraud||FTC and U.S. Social Security Administration|
|Passport Fraud||U.S. State Department, Passport Services Department|
|Tax Fraud||FTC and IRS|
|Mail Theft||U.S. Postal Inspection Service|
Reset All Passwords
Given your name, address, Social Security number and your mother’s maiden name, the world becomes an oyster for anyone willing to exploit that data for personal gain. It also makes it easier for them to gain access to your passwords.
Still, you should change them the moment you learn you’re being defrauded. Make them complex, using at least eight alphanumeric characters and at least one of the special characters above the numbers on your keyboard. You should also enable two-factor authentication wherever it is offered to make accessing your accounts even more difficult.
Understanding how to respond to identity theft is just the first step. You’re in for a pretty long haul and in some cases your credit might be ruined completely. Availing yourself of debt relief could help you settle any accounts you can’t get forgiven, but hopefully it won’t come to that. Remember, talking with a professional debt counselor can be huge help in making a plan of attack.