- Have you ever had a bank or creditor contact you telling you that someone attempted or successfully opened an account under your name?
- Have you ever noticed an account on your credit report that you did not open?
These are all signs of identity theft but what exactly do you do when this happens? Identity theft protection services are expensive and typically only help you clean things up after the incident has occurred. These services are helpful but you don't need them to take action.
If your identity has been stolen and someone attempted or successfully used your identity, here are the steps you should take:
- Notify Banks and other Financial Institutions - Banks and other financial institutions can put your accounts on fraud alert and may also provide information regarding recent suspicious transactions you may not know about.
- Put Credit Reports on Fraud Alert - Call one of the three credit bureaus and request your credit report to be placed on a 90 day fraud alert. Once this is done, the credit bureau will contact the other two credit bureaus for you and place them on fraud alert. If you feel you need longer than 90 days, you can request your reports to be placed on fraud alert for up to seven years.
- Cancel or Request new Credit and Debit Cards - If you suspect your credit and/or debit card(s) may be involved, cancel the cards and request new ones from your financial institution(s). Credit and Debit Card theft is the most common form of identity theft.
- File a Police Report - In the event you need to go to court or fight with your financial institutions and credit bureaus, you need documentation to back you up. Filing a police report shows them you took appropriate actions and establishes an official "Identity Theft Report". This gives you a solid track record that will work to your advantage when attempting to reclaim your identity.
- Review your Credit Reports - Get a copy of your most recent credit reports and review them. Look for any suspicious new accounts or inquiries. If any are identified, contact that creditor immediately and notify the credit bureaus.
For your convenience, below are the US phone numbers for the credit bureaus and the Federal Trade Commission. These may change in the future but as of today they are current.
Federal Trade Commission - 1-877-438-4338
Equifax - 1-888-685-1111
Experian - 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion - 1-800-680-7289
Identity theft is never going away and in this digital age, it is going to get worse. Just as you need to be prepared for a natural disaster or warfare, you need to be prepared for identity theft. Have a plan and be ready for when this happens to you.