With an estimated 1 in 3 Americans experiencing identity theft, it’s important to know what to do if your identity is stolen.
How to Spot Identity Theft
Stay alert for identity theft by closely reviewing all statements from your credit union or bank, as well as credit card statements. Look out for unusual charges, no matter how small. Thieves will sometimes debit a small sum from your account and monitor your response. If no action is taken, they’ll move on to a bigger amount.
You can also spot identity theft by regularly checking your credit report. A free copy is available every year, from each of the three credit reporting agencies. Examine your report for anything suspicious, including credit accounts you don’t remember opening or errors in your personal information.
Other common warning signs of identity theft are denials of credit you didn’t apply for, calls about purchases you didn’t make, and bills not arriving when you expect them.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of identity theft, then it’s time to take action:
Step 1: Make an Official Report
Visit www.identitytheft.gov or call 1-877-438-4338 to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Reporting identity theft helps deter criminals and it gets you free access to resources, including a recovery plan, progress tracking, and assistance filling in the necessary forms and letters.
Along with making an FTC report, contact your local police department. You can bring a copy of your FTC report to simplify this process. Creating a police report will help others avoid fraud and could be useful in the future. If you ever need to file a long-term fraud alert, you’ll need to show a copy of your police report.
Step 2: Contact Your Financial Institutions
Get in touch with your financial institutions, including your credit card providers, bank or credit union. Even if you haven’t yet seen any money missing, it’s still a good idea to let them know what’s happened so that a fraud expert can walk you through the next steps.
Step 3: Report Unauthorized Charges – Fast!
Most credit cards offer zero liability protection, which means you aren’t responsible for fraudulent charges. Call up your credit card’s fraud hotline to report unauthorized charges. With ATM and debit cards, it can be more complicated to recoup stolen money. The key is acting fast: account holders’ liability is limited to $50 when the theft is reported within 48 hours.
Step 4: Set Up a Fraud Alert
Placing a fraud alert on your credit report means that if a credit request comes in, the creditor must verify your identity. This creates an additional step and deters identity thieves, but if you need credit, you can still get it.
You can set up a fraud alert by contacting one of the three main U.S. credit bureaus: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Whichever bureau you contact will let the other two know what’s happened and extend the alert.
Step 5: Consider a Credit Freeze
A credit freeze blocks access to your credit report, so that it’s not possible to get any new lines of credit. You won’t be able to get a new credit card or apply for credit to make a big purchase – and neither will someone who has stolen your identity. You can temporarily lift the freeze if you need to.
Set up a credit freeze by calling all three of the credit bureaus. Check out this article for more information on the differences between fraud alerts and credit freezes.
Step 6: Change Login Details
It’s a good idea to change passwords regularly, and this is particularly true if you’ve been the victim of identity theft. Create a strong password and don’t re-use passwords, which could enable an identity thief to access even more accounts. If you have trouble remembering login details for various accounts, consider using a password management tool.
Step 7: Stay Vigilant
Continue to monitor your credit report and banking statements. You’ll automatically receive a free copy of your credit report after filing a fraud alert; check through at this point, and again after six months. If you see anything that shouldn’t be there, contact the credit bureau and ask to have the fraudulent charges removed. The FTC has a helpful sample letter to assist you in making this request.
Step 8: Speak up
Being the victim of identity theft is nothing to be ashamed of – it happens to many, many people! One important step you can take is speaking to others about your experience. Explain what happened and give advice on how you plan to avoid identity fraud in the future. This will help your friends and family to do the same!