If you’ve been an unfortunate victim of identity theft, you are probably all too familiar with the destruction the situation can cause. You have to sort through financial transactions and dig up records, prove which accounts belong to you, and guard against further damage. Once you have identified and isolated the damage caused by identity theft, however, the following steps can help you begin to recover.
Keep a record. Because recovering from identity theft can be a long and complicated process, it’s important to keep a record of all communications. Send all letters by certified mail and keep copies. If you think your case might lead to a lawsuit, keep track of how much time you spend dealing with the problem.
Call the police. Report the crime to the police or the sheriff’s department that has jurisdiction in your case and request a police report. Though the authorities are often unable to assist you, a police report may be necessary to help convince creditors that someone else has opened an account in your name.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission. Call the FTC’s identity theft hotline at 877-438-4338 and file a complaint. The FTC does not resolve individual consumer problems itself, but your complaint may lead to law enforcement action.
Check your credit report. Request a copy of your credit report and check for inquiries that you do not recognize and any new accounts opened in your name. If you place a fraud alert, you are entitled to free copies of the information in your file. Because new accounts may take up to six months to show up on the report, continue to monitor your credit report.
Contact the three credit reporting agencies. Have one of the three agencies (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion) put a fraud alert on your file. This will aid in preventing new credit accounts from being opened without your express permission.
Fraud alerts. You may place an initial 90-day fraud alert by calling any one of the three credit reporting agencies. You may place an extended seven-year alert by writing to one of the agencies and providing an identity theft report as well as a day and evening telephone number. You can find the requirements for an identity theft report on the FTC’s website. The extended alert also removes your name from pre-screened offers of credit for five years.
Active duty alert. If you qualify, you may request an active duty alert, which will remain on your file for 12 months, by calling any one of the nationwide credit reporting companies. This alert removes your name from pre-screened offers of credit for two years.
Sharing of alerts. The nationwide credit reporting company that accepts your request for a fraud or active duty alert will share your request with the other two companies. They will add the alert to your credit file or request that you provide them additional information.
Freeze fraudulent accounts. Contact your creditors, banks, phone companies, and utility companies and have them freeze your accounts. You’ll probably be liable for only $50 of the fraudulent charges, but different issuers have different policies. Most creditors promptly issue replacement cards with new account numbers.
Block the reporting of fraudulent accounts. If an account was opened fraudulently and was identified in a police report as being fraudulent, you can provide a copy of the police report and request that Equifax and the other two credit reporting agencies block the reporting of the fraudulent account in your credit file.
Place a security freeze on your credit file. Many (but not all) states allow you to place a security freeze on your credit file for free or for a reduced fee. A security freeze will put your credit file on ice by preventing the information in it from being reported to third parties, such as credit grantors and other companies.
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