Have you ever known someone who has been the victim of identity theft or credit card fraud? It can be a highly frustrating experience, and it can take a long time to get the situation resolved. All that aside, it can be difficult to know where to start when it comes to what to do if your identity is stolen. Being the victim of identity theft or credit card fraud is not fun, but here are a few things you can do to start to set things right.
1. Act quickly and close the account that has been hacked or stolen.
If you realize that someone who is not you is using your credit card or charging things, you need to close the account and shut it down ASAP. Get in touch with the financial institution connected to the account immediately and explain that you think the account has been compromised. Tell them which charges are fraudulent and have them lock the account.
2. Check your credit card and bank statements.
You need to check over your credit card and bank statements, even for accounts you seldom use. Make sure that your new arch nemesis – a.k.a. the identity thief – hasn’t gotten ahold of any of your other accounts. If you spot any fraudulent charges, you need to contact the financial institution as soon as possible and get them to close the account.
3. Set up a fraud alert for your credit report.
A fraud alert will tell any institution that pulls your credit report that your identity may have been stolen or compromised. The fraud alert should prompt the institution seeking your credit report to take extra care to ensure the person who wants a loan or account is who they say they are. (This is a good step for anyone who suspects they’re the victim of identity theft to take.) Setting up a fraud alert means that you will automatically get a free credit report from each of the three reporting bureaus.
The alert will last 90 days, but if you have written proof that you’re the victim of identity theft you can extend it to last seven years (but you can lift the alert at any time by sending in a written request.)
4. Set up a credit freeze on your accounts.
A credit freeze will stop the three credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion) from releasing your report to institutions or potential creditors that ask for it. You have to freeze your report at each of the three reporting bureaus. That will prevent an identity thief from applying for new loans or credit cards in your name. (It’s important to protect your credit – your credit has an effect on your home insurance.)
5. Sign up for credit monitoring if you’re the victim of a data breach.
When there’s a data breach, some companies will offer free credit monitoring to their customers. Read through the letter notifying you of the breach and sign up for the credit monitoring service – you actually have to take the initiative and sign up. You won’t be automatically registered for it.
6. Check over your credit report.
Each of the three credit reporting bureaus will provide you with a free copy of your credit report once a year if you request it. If you think your identity has been stolen, you should go over your report – you’re looking for strange accounts that you didn’t open, hard checks on your credit that you didn’t ask for, unusual payment history, employers you never worked for, and false personal info.
This will help you find out if you’re dealing with credit card fraud that affects one account or full-on identity theft.
(You can request your credit report at AnnualCreditReport.com.)
7. File a Federal Trade Commission complaint/report.
If you believe your identity problem goes beyond credit card fraud with only one account affected, you may want to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by filling out their ID Theft Complaint and Affidavit form. You can go to their website or contact them at 1-877-438-4338.
(The website IdentityTheft.gov is a helpful resource as well.)
8. File a police report.
It’s also very important to file a police report with your local police department. The report should list all fraudulent accounts. You can give them a copy of the FTC identity theft complaint form to include in their report.
If the police can’t give you a copy of their report, you can ask them to sign the FTC report and write the police report number in the “Law Enforcement Report” section. Oh, and it’s probably a good idea to keep the phone number of the investigator just in case you need it.
(Note: The police report and FTC report together make up your identity theft report.)
9. Have the credit-reporting bureaus remove the fraudulent accounts.
You should again contact the credit reporting bureaus to make sure that they are not including fraudulent accounts on your report. You can send them a copy of your identity theft report. It’s also important to watch your credit report in the future to make sure that the fraudulent information doesn’t come back to haunt you again.
10. Reset your passwords if need be.
You should change all passwords to your accounts. Passwords should be difficult to guess, include numbers and symbols, and be at least eight characters long.
11. Get a new driver’s license.
If someone is using your license number for ID, you’ll need to scurry over to the DMV and get a new license.
12. Take steps to prevent identity theft.
Going forward, it’s a good idea to take steps to prevent further or future identity theft.
Here are some tips for preventing identity theft…
- Set strong passwords on your accounts.
- Don’t click on links in pop-ups or scam emails.
- Don’t overshare on social media.
- Watch your credit card bills and bank statements.
- Cancel pre-screened credit card offers.
- Keep your Social Security Number safe.
- Shred documents with personal information on them.
So, those are some tips on what to do if you fear that your identity has been stolen. It’s really important to close the accounts and file the appropriate reports. Though identity theft might make you feel panicked, you can recover from it.