Identity theft is a very serious crime that refers to a criminal stealing your personal information, including your name, address, credit card or bank accounts, social security number or medical insurance account numbers.
With this information, it is possible for an identity thief to assume your identity. By assuming your identity, a thief is capable of opening up a line of credit under your name, allowing the thief to spend as much as he or she wants without any consequences.
Your credit score will take a serious hit from the identity thief’s spending. The longer it takes you to identify the incident and take action, the harder it is to reverse the damage. Even if you catch the identify thief right away, it will take a lot of hard work and many hours to undo the damage caused by the identify thief. It may seem discouraging, but the consequences are much more severe if you do not take the necessary steps to repair your credit.
One of the reasons identity theft is so damaging is how long it takes to catch. Most of the time, you will not know your identity was stolen until the identity thief has already caused severe damage to your credit. Usually, an identity thief will open a line of credit and run it into the ground by making expensive purchases. Once the line of credit is empty, he or she will abandon the account, which leads to the credit provider contacting you about missed payments.
The easiest way to catch an identity thief is to carefully look over your monthly bills and account statements. You should look for any items you did not purchase or withdrawals you do not remember making. Something else to look for is a change of your primary address. This is especially important if you receive your bills or account statements online. Another overlooked sign of identity theft is when your bills or account statements stop arriving. If this happens, it likely means the identity thief has altered your contact information to hide his or her crime.
If you believe you are a victim of identity theft, you should immediately request your credit report for more detailed information on what credit lines have been opened in your name. You are eligible for a free credit report each year from each of the three major credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. However, this is just the first in many steps to regain your good name.
There are a couple of steps you can take after your identity has been stolen to help reverse the damage. Most of the steps involve notification of those who will be directly affected or who need to be informed so that legal action can be taken.
The first thing you need to do is report the crime. By filing a police report, you will have even more documentation to prove you were a victim of a crime. In addition, there is the possibility the identity thief has affected other victims in the area. By making a report with the police, you may be helping with an ongoing investigation. Depending on your bank or credit card provider, you may be required to call the police before they will allow you to make a fraud report in the first place. Once you have filed a police report, you should be able to report fraud with your bank or credit provider.
If you want one additional layer of security, you can also report your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). After making a report, the FTC will create an Identity Theft Affidavit in your name, which acts as further proof you were a victim of identity theft.
In addition to contacting your bank and credit card providers, you should also report your identity theft to one of the three major credit bureaus. You are only required to contact one of the three major credit bureaus, as they will notify the others within 24 hours of receiving a fraud alert. After making a report, your account will be frozen and flagged “at risk.” Usually, this will stop anyone from opening new lines of credit, but it is possible for identity thieves to get around a frozen account.
Let both your bank and the credit card providers know someone has stolen your identity. After contacting these companies, ask if you can file a fraud report in writing. Whenever possible, you should create a paper trail, since the written report can act as proof you were the victim of identity theft and not someone who is trying to commit credit fraud.
Just contacting the credit bureaus does not individually refute the charges that the thief has compiled using your account. You will have to dispute each of them with the bureaus and the individual stores yourself. While you are disputing the purchases, you should provide as much proof as possible that you were a victim of identity theft. This is when having written proof of your fraud reports is most important. Unfortunately, this step will often take the longest to resolve.
Even if you have a police report and multiple fraud alerts from your bank and credit providers, the seller you are speaking with may not dispute the transaction. Many sellers will at least freeze the transaction while the investigation is ongoing. Depending on how long it has been since the purchase was made, you may not even be able to get this courtesy. If the identity thief has been very active, you may have to speak with collection agencies, as well.
Another one of the reasons identity theft is so dangerous is how much personal information the identity thief can obtain. Even if you shut down all the lines of credit opened in your name and dispute any credit card charge you did not make, the identity thief can still pretend to be you. It may seem extreme, but you should cancel your existing credit cards and request brand new cards. Be sure to change all of your passwords with your bank, credit card accounts and any other utility providers that have your personal information.
Consider having your driver’s license and potentially your social security number changed. Make sure none of these accounts have been altered in any way. Look for changes in address, as well as additional email accounts added to your account profiles. If you are unsure of what other steps to take, contact your credit providers and ask what security steps you should take after having your identity stolen. Many companies have their own procedures and recommendations for how to address identity theft.