Immediate Steps to Take When Your Identity is Stolen
Millions of Americans are at risk of identity theft every year. It’s a growing problem in the U.S., especially during the pandemic as identity thieves are targeting relief checks and unemployment benefits.
Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information such as your Social Security number, bank account number or credit card information. There are various forms of identity theft, but the most common is financial.
So, if you receive a bill for a credit card you don’t recognize or notice that funds have been drawn from your bank account without your knowledge, you may be a victim of identity theft. Suddenly faced with such a problem, you’ve got to act fast, especially at the early stages of potential theft and follow these steps below to protect yourself.
Contact your lender or issuer
If your identity is stolen, wasting time worrying will only compound the problem. The first priority, therefore, is to contact your lender or issuer as soon as possible to alert them to the problem and to begin the process of recovering from identity theft.
Place a fraud alert on your credit report
You will also need to contact at least one of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion to request that a fraud alert be placed on your account.
Check your credit reports
After placing the initial fraud alert, you can request a free copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency. It’s important to look through all three reports to ensure you’re not missing anything important.
Freeze your credit report
To limit the damage from the theft, you can deny access to your credit report by requesting security freezes at all three credit bureaus. Until the credit freeze is lifted, no financial institutions or third parties will be able to access your credit report. There is no time limit to the freeze, so it will remain until you decide to lift it, which you may do temporarily when applying for a new credit or permanently.
Report the identity theft to the FTC
To file a report with the FTC, visit www.identitytheft.gov. As part of the reporting process, you’ll receive a recovery plan and an Identity Theft Report, which acts as proof that your identity was stolen.
Contact your local police department
After you’ve reported the incident to the FTC, file a report with your local police department. Securing a police report can help protect you from further damages resulting from the theft. Make sure the police report lists all accounts affected by the fraud and be prepared to provide as much documented information as possible, along with your Identity Theft Report.
Remove fraudulent info from your credit report
Contact the issuer and credit bureaus to remove or block any fraudulent information you find, so it won’t appear in your credit reports, and you won’t be contacted to pay any of the debts.
Check your credit reports regularly
Check to be sure that any accounts in forbearance or deferment are being reported properly, and to watch for signs of fraud. Early detection, which you can accomplish by regularly reviewing your statements and credit report, can make it easier to repair any damage. You can also sign up for a free credit report to begin monitoring your report for any fraudulent activity and receive alerts when there are changes.
Be sure to request your bank to replace your card due to the fraud. Just be cautious when providing your personal data and set up some simple security measures to exclude breaches of personal information. Remember to create strong, complex passwords for each account and to change them from time to time.
Knowing what to do and how to prevent identity theft can help protect you from having to pay for fraudulent charges and to deal with these kinds of fraud in the future.
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