Taking Charge! What to do if your Identity is Stolen
Wednesday, March 4, 2015
Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It is a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history, and reputation - and it can take time, money, and patience to resolve.
If you suspect that someone has stolen your identity, acting quickly is the best way to limit the damage. Setting things straight involves some work.
How do thieves get my information?
"I thought I kept my personal information to myself." You may have, but identity thieves are resourceful and use a variety of ways to get your information. They
"dumpster dive" or rummage through your garbage, the trash of businesses, or public dumps.
What do identity thieves do with my information?
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief might even file a tax return in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even
give your name to the police during an arrest.
How can I tell that someone has stolen my information?
• you see unexplained withdrawals from your bank account
• you don't get your bills or other mail
• merchants refuse your checks
• debt collectors call you about debts that aren't yours
• you find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
• medical providers bill you for services you didn't use
• your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you've reached your benefits limit
• the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notifies you that more than 1 tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don't work for
• you get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account
• you are arrested for a crime someone else allegedly committed in your name
What should I do if my information is lost or stolen, but my accounts don't show any problems?
If your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial, or account information is lost or stolen, contact the credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your credit file.
Check your bank and other account statements for unusual activity. You may want to take additional steps, depending on what information was lost or stolen. For example, you can exercise your legal right to a free copy of your credit report.
If your information is lost in a data breach, the organization that lost your information will notify you and tell you about your rights. Generally, you may choose to:
• place a fraud alert on your credit file
• monitor your accounts for unusual activity
• exercise your right to a free copy of your credit report
You may have other rights under state law.
Immediate Steps To Take
Place an Initial Fraud Alert
Three nationwide credit reporting companies keep records of your credit history. If you think someone has misused your personal or financial information, call 1 of the companies and ask them to put an initial fraud alert on your credit report. You must provide proof of your identity. The company you call must tell the other companies about your alert.
An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit in your name, so it may try to contact you. Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can
get in touch with you. The initial alert stays on your report for 90 days. It allows you to order 1 free copy of your credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting companies.
Order your Credit Report
After you place an initial fraud alert, the credit reporting company will explain your rights and how you can get a copy of your credit report. Placing an initial fraud alert entitles you to a free credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting companies.
>> Ask each company to show only the last 4 digits of your Social Security number on your report.
>> Update your files.
>> Record the dates you made calls or sent letters.
>> Keep copies of letters in your files.
If you know which of your accounts have been tampered with, contact the related businesses. Talk to someone in the fraud department, and follow up in writing. Send your letters by certified mail; ask for a return receipt. That creates a record of your communications. When you read your credit report, you may find unauthorized charges or accounts.
>> SC Identity Network Quick Reference Guide
>> FTC Identity Theft Reference Guide