Identity Theft? Take a Deep Breath & Follow These Steps
Many people assume that they never have to worry about identity theft.
They assume people only want to steal the identities of those with great credit scores or bank accounts.
But here’s the truth…
In 2017, nearly 17 million people had their identity stolen.
Many of them were just average Americans who worked regular jobs and weren’t bringing in high amounts of money.
Naturally, they never expected that they would be a victim of identity theft.
How Does Someone Pull Off Identity Theft?
There are quite a few ways that a person can pull off identity theft. Some simply jot down people’s personal information at the business where they work.
Some people take mail that was wrongfully delivered to them and use it to create false accounts in other people’s names.
There are even times when friends and family members will steal your identity to purchase something that they want or get utilities turned on in your name.
When you fall prey to identity theft, you need to act quickly to minimize the consequences.
These are the steps you should take…
Step One: Contact Your Bank and Creditors Right Away
The first thing you need to do when you notice you’ve been a victim of identity theft is contact your bank and your creditors right away.
You need to let them know what has happened, find out if any charges or accounts have been opened in your name that you aren’t aware of.
You also need to know if anyone has contacted your bank on your behalf.
Instruct your bank to put a hold on all of your accounts so that no account transactions go through.
Also, ensure that nothing can be charged to your credit cards by ordering a replacement as soon as possible.
The sooner your bank or credit card company aware of the situation – the more damage you prevent from happening.
Step Two: Check Your Credit Reports
Credit reports will have documentation of any new accounts that have been opened. You can go online to visit the Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion websites to get a copy.
Remember that the law states you are eligible to pull one free copy of your credit report annually.
If you already got a copy of your report once this year, you may have to pay a fee to get an updated copy.
Once you get your report you need to be able to look closely at everything that has been opened in your name.
You also want to make sure that there are no outstanding debts or loans that you don’t know about.
Each of the reports from the three credit bureaus will contain unique information so that’s why you need to get a copy of all three of them.
Check your reports again after 30 days, because it takes credit bureaus time to update your information after they are opened.
When it comes to identity theft, you don’t want to leave any stone unturned.
Step Three: Sign Up for Credit Monitoring
Experian and TransUnion offer you the ability to sign up for credit monitoring.
This allows you to be alerted of new credit inquiries, accounts, or debts.
You may have to pay a small fee for the services, but it will be well worth the cost if it allows you to prevent your credit from being ruined.
Websites like Credit Karma and Credit Sesame have free credit monitoring services that are a great help.
Step Four: Go to the Police
Once you have evidence of the identity theft through your credit reports or other information collected in the process of your investigation, file a police report.
Even if you have an idea of who may have stolen your identity it is best to avoid any confrontation – which could be potentially dangerous.
The police are there to help.
The police will create a report that details why you believe you have been a victim of identity theft, what proof you have, and an investigation will be opened to try to determine what is really going on with your identity.
Never underestimate the seriousness of identity theft.
It doesn’t stop at opening accounts in your name.
Those who participate in identity theft can get into legal trouble, claim to be you and then you will be responsible for proving you did not do whatever crime they committed.
Reporting the situation to the police provides you with important paperwork that you can give to your creditors.
It also ensures that if anyone gets in trouble using your name there will be proof of the identity theft which could keep you from being held liable for the other person’s decisions.
Step Five: File a Fraud Alert with the Credit Bureaus
Once you have the police report, you need to contact the credit bureaus directly and provide them with the proof that your identity was stolen.
They will be able to open up an investigation and work with the police to ensure that any questionable activity is properly documented.
This can also ensure that you aren’t held liable for the charges or delinquencies the person creates while they are using your identity. This can save you a lot of irritation and money in the end.
Step Six: Fax Identity Theft Reports to Your Creditors
Last but not least, it is important to provide your creditors with proof that your identity was stolen.
Fax a copy of the police report to each of your creditors and advise them to issue out replacement cards, or put your account on hold temporarily.
It’s also a good idea to contact local utility companies and let them know about the situation. They can flag your name in their computer system so no new accounts can be opened in your name.
You also may want to tell your friends and family what happened and that you went to the police. If someone is guilty of stealing your identity, they may fess up to the crime if they think they could be facing serious punishment for it.