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Identity Theft: What to Do If It Happens To You

 

Identity theft happens when someone illegally gathers your personal information with the intention of using it to commit fraud. The identity thief can use your information to file taxes, get medical services, make purchases, or obtain credit.  Under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), identity theft victims have the right to:

  • Place fraud alerts with the three major credit bureaus or credit reporting agencies (CRA)
  • Place a security freeze on your credit reports from the three main credit reporting agencies
  • Get copies of your credit reports from the three main credit bureaus
  • Obtain information from debt collectors
  • Stop businesses from reporting inaccurate information to credit reporting bureaus
  • Obtain documents about fraudulent accounts opened or purchases made using your information

Should you become a victim of identity theft, you should take the following urgent steps to stop the criminal from continuing to use your information:

Contact the credit reporting agencies

If you find out that someone stole your identity, you should contact credit reporting agencies as soon as possible. You might also want to request a fraud alert for at least a year. This will prevent any fraudsters from using your information to obtain credit. Once you have placed a fraud alert, businesses will have to verify the identity of anyone using your information to obtain credit.

Contact the affected banks and companies

This is another step you must take as soon as you realize that someone compromised your identity. Contact the fraud departments of the financial institutions and businesses where your identity was used fraudulently.  This step might require you to freeze the affected accounts.

Ask for copies of your credit accounts

It’s important that you get free copies of your credit report from the three major credit reporting bureaus. Since each bureau’s report might be different, getting copies from all of them will ensure that you don’t miss anything.

Report the identity theft to the FTC

Although reporting identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is not a requirement, the report it issues may help you prove the identity theft to businesses and financial institutions. Law enforcement agencies such as the police or the FBI  may use the information the FTC gathers to help arrest and prosecute the perpetrators of identity theft.

Contact local law enforcement

Once you get a report from the FTC, you should contact your local police department.  Bring proof of your current address, a government-issued photo ID, and any proof you might have that your identity was stolen. Remember to ask for a copy of the police report in case you need it.

Clean up your accounts

You will also need to contact other companies where you have accounts, such as  utility and phone companies, and cancel any fraudulent accounts. You can also choose to open new accounts with new account numbers. Remember to create strong passwords for all your accounts.

Final word

The steps we have discussed in this post will put you on the right path to reporting identity fraud. However, as you can see, the effort required to get your identity back can be a huge mountain to climb, depending on how severe the damage is. It’s important to protect yourself going forward, and take action as soon as you realize someone has stolen your identity.