If you become a victim of identity theft, it's important to act quickly to keep the damage to a minimum and prevent the situation from becoming worse. Here are the steps to take:
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit file by contacting one of the three consumer reporting agencies listed below, and ask them to report it to the other two agencies. This is a free service, and the fraud alert will remain active for 90 days and can be renewed if needed. By doing this, it is more difficult for the criminal to open accounts in your name. Any credit company will need to contact you in person before issuing credit.
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285
- Experian 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
2. Obtain and review your credit reports. One of your rights as a fraud victim is a free credit report from each of these three companies. Call each one and explain that you have placed a fraud report. Request your free credit report, and ask that they only print the last four digits of your social security number on the report for security reasons. Then review each credit report to be sure there are no accounts you don't recognize and no unauthorized charges to your existing accounts. Call each of your affected creditors, notifying their fraud department, and follow up in writing. Always be sure to send all correspondence by certified mail with a return receipt so that you have record of your communications.
3. Create an Identity Theft Report. This will assist you in having fraudulent information removed from your credit report and to stop collection procedures on fraudulent debt, along with other tasks. This Identity Theft Report involves three steps:
- Complete the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit at ftccomplaintassistant.gov, giving as many details as possible. Be sure to save or print the affidavit before exiting the screen.
- File a local police report, taking your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit, photo ID, and proof of address. Request a copy of the report or the report number.
- Attach the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to the police report; this makes up your Identity Theft Report.
Recovering from identity theft is long and complex. The FTC estimates that you'll spend approximately six months and 200 hours working to recover from identity theft. Be sure to keep records of every step (when and to whom you make phone calls or send letters), and keep original copies of anything you mail, along with important dates such as when you need to file requests or expect a reply from a company.
Visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft to download free resources that will help you in this process, particularly their "Taking Charge" publication.
As a final note, check with your insurance agent to see if you have identity theft protection or if you're interested in adding the coverage to your homeowners policy.