Identity theft is a major concern of many Americans. If your identity has been compromised, what you do next is very important. Acting quickly and reporting the fraud can save you time and money.
There are many types of identity theft and they can happen one at a time or all at once.
The most common forms are:
-Applications for new credit
-Fraudulent withdrawals from your bank or savings account
-Credit card fraud
-Fraudulent use of medical care
-Social security or tax and employment fraud
A single compromised account is considered credit card fraud, not identity theft. However, it can be difficult to distinguish between the two when you first notice something’s amiss. Fraudulent credit card activity can be a one-time breach of security or it can indicate that all of your information has been compromised. That’s why it’s important to be aware of your credit and all of your personal information.
If you become aware of activity that looks suspicious, you should take action immediately with the following steps to stop the theft and minimize the damage.
- Contact your bank or credit card company. If you discover false charges to your credit card, or if your wallet or check book were stolen, contact the financial institution directly. You’ll need to dispute the charges right away. You can call the number provided by your bank or credit card company—they all have departments that deal with fraud and they can immediately freeze your accounts.
- Look at your other accounts. Once you notice an issue with one credit card or account, review your other financial statements for fraudulent activity. If you find unknown charges, immediately call the financial institution to alert them of the problem and close or freeze the account.
- Review your credit report for unauthorized accounts. If you’re a victim of identity theft, it means that someone has all of your personal information and could have opened credit cards that you’re unaware of. Access and scan your credit report, you’re entitled to at least one free report from each agency per year. Look for accounts you don’t recognize and then contact the financial institutions to report and close them.
- After you’ve assessed the extent of the problem, you may want to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. This is necessary if your identity has been stolen, not just a single credit card breach. To file a report, you can use the government website gov or call 877-ID-THEFT.
- Call the local police. While you don’t necessarily need your local police force to investigate the crime, it’s important to show that you were proactive in addressing the problem. If someone stole your information locally, they may be able to track them down.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit. After you’ve followed the first 5 steps to stop the fraudulent activity, follow up with the credit bureaus and request an alert be placed on your account. This will last 90 days and will alert any institution that pulls your credit to report that your identity may be compromised. The fraud alert will prompt creditors to take extra steps to verify your identity with the person opening the account.
- Moving on, take good care to protect your identity from future fraud. By being diligent, you’ll be less likely to be the victim of this time-consuming, credit ruining crime.