Note: This is Part 4 of 4 in a series of posts on identity theft protections and how to safeguard your personal and financial information.
Our series on identity theft protections has shown how to protect yourself online, stay safe offline and prepare to take action in the event you fall victim to identity theft. But what should you do in the event your identity or financial information is stolen? Here are some practical steps to help you recover from identity theft.
- Call Credit Bureaus & Financial Institutions
If you find suspicious activity in your accounts, call a major credit reporting bureau immediately and place a fraud alert. Here’s how:
- TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289, www.transunion.com
- Experian, 1-888-397-3742, www.experian.com
- Equifax, 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com
If you contact one bureau for a fraud alert, the others should be notified. They’ll flag your identity for 90 days, alerting potential creditors to contact you personally before opening accounts. While you’re at it, ask for your free credit report, which should help you track down fraudulent transactions.
You can place a security freeze on your credit report, which offers more protection since it prevents creditors from running a credit check. This, however, can cost you in fees and has to be placed with each credit bureau.
Freeze or close any affected bank or credit card account. In many cases, you’re protected from fraud above a certain amount, so now’s a good time to ask (and possibly regain some peace of mind).
- File Police & FTC Reports
It might seem pointless to file a police report when you look at the rate of uninvestigated identity theft cases. File it anyway! It might not give you a day in court, but it does offer legitimacy. It’s easier to fix fraudulent balances if you provide a police report, and some creditors may require it. If your driver’s license or other government-issued identification was stolen, be sure to notify them of that, too.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-ID-THEFT or visit their Tools for Victims online). This gives you additional legitimacy and helps them track identity theft rings. The FTC also provides useful tools and resources (like sample letters to send creditors).
- Call the Creditors
This is the most important part. Compare your credit report to your account list. Look at existing accounts, new accounts opened in your name, and credit inquiries with no account opened. Call each of the companies, explain the situation, dispute any fraudulent charges, close any fraudulent accounts (or request that they not open any for which inquiries have been made), and ask what further action needs to be taken so you’re not held responsible for the charges.
Keep careful records. When and who did you call? Did they agree to reverse charges? Will they fax or mail you something confirming that? It might seem silly to write out such details, but you might need them to fight the same battle later. Follow up often – while many companies are responsive, some are not, so persevere.
- Continue Monitoring
Though everything seems resolved, keep your records and continue to monitor your accounts and credit reports. Unfortunately, identity theft issues can crop up years later, so be prepared for that potential headache!