Effective Sept. 21, 2018, security freezes and fraud alerts will change under a new federal law. Placing, temporarily lifting and removing security freezes is now free for consumers, and initial fraud alerts increased from 90 days to one year. For more information, please click here.
Identity theft can leave a victim feeling powerless and out of control of their own financial situation, but it doesn’t have to. If you’ve been the victim of identity theft, you may want to consider placing an initial fraud alert on your credit file with each of the three major Credit Reporting Agencies, Equifax, Experian and Trans Union.
There are plenty of steps consumers can take on their own to reclaim their identities and help better protect their information moving forward.
Maintain a record
As you attempt to recover from identity theft, you may find yourself accumulating a substantial pile of paperwork. It’s important not get overwhelmed in a sea of information, but don’t be too quick to discard documents you may need later in the dispute process. Instead, create an ongoing record of the theft and your subsequent actions for future reference.
Papers filed away might include a police report documenting the identity theft, an accompanying identity theft report—filed with the FTC at the time of theft—and account statements from your financial institution or similar documents demonstrating evidence of both the fraud and your attempts to resolve the problem. Keep in mind that it is your responsibility to obtain and save these papers in your personal files at the beginning of the dispute process to help mitigate potential problems later.
Notify the affected business
Once you’ve worked with the CRAs to correct the data on your credit report, it’s important to identify how your identity was stolen to begin with and then notify the business or establishment where you suspect the fraud originated.
“It’s imperative to give notice of the problem,” says Yan Ross, director of special projects at the Institute for Consumer Financial Education. If the business didn’t bring the fraud to your attention, it is possible that they remain oblivious to its occurrence.
According to Robert Siciliano, identity theft expert with BestIDTheftCompanys.com, every business may have its own ways of working with consumers who have experienced fraud with their accounts. “It is essential that consumers be patient and follow those processes as the business requires,” he says.
When working with the business, it may be helpful to bring your account records or other identifying paperwork, such as the police report, in order to prove what has occurred. “Generally [a business] will work with the victim to release them from the debt and also work toward preventing fraud from happening to them again,” Siciliano says.
Secure your accounts
If you know that any of your online payment accounts or mobile banking platforms were compromised as the result of fraud, consider changing your passwords and setting up systems to alert you to potential compromises to your identity, such as text alerts for large withdrawals from your checking account.
In addition to any online accounts, it may be necessary to replace the physical copies of compromised cards or forms of personal identification including credit and debit cards, or your driver’s license or similar identifying information.
You might also consider putting either a fraud alert or a security freeze on your credit file. security freeze are designed to better help The information in your credit file from being reported to others.
Placing a fraud alert on your account, the less severe of the two options, may make it more difficult for identity thieves to open new credit in your name by encouraging potential lenders to take extra steps to verify your identity before offering you credit, usually by contacting you directly. An initial fraud alert would only last for 90 days but you may be able to extend this time period if necessary.
A security freeze, on the other hand, is a more extreme security measure. Where a fraud alert only makes it more difficult for identity thieves to open new credit in your name, a freeze is designed to block access to your credit file—A security freeze has no set expiration date and it will be your responsibility to temporarily lift or permanently remove the freeze from your account if you need to allow someone to access your credit when opening a new account, applying for a loan, or other legitimate reasons. Asses your situation carefully and consider speaking with a professional who may be able to advise you on your specific situation, before committing to a security freeze.
The CRAs will work with you to establish these precautions but it is your responsibility to know when they may be of use in your specific situation, to ask for them to be placed on your account and to renew them should they expire.
Once you’re further along the path of recovery, you may begin to feel more secure in your personal security habits. Feeling confident in your recovery is great, but it’s equally important to stay vigilant and not let a sense of security turn into laziness.
“Maintain a constant alert of your credit report to make sure going forward all data continues to be accurate,” Siciliano says.
Ross agrees, adding that while it is impossible to stay 100 percent protected from the threat of identity theft, you can still learn to establish habits to help protect yourself in the future. This means keeping an eye on your security habits and closely monitoring all of your accounts for signs of potential fraud, not just the accounts previously compromised.
“You pick yourself up and you learn. The integrity of my identity has been compromised, what do I do about it?” says Ross.
As devastating as identity theft may be, you can still turn the experience into a learning opportunity. Empower yourself to recognize past security failings, take action to correct them, and know how to react and who to contact when you spot potential signs of fraud.