Key steps to take if you're a victim of identity theft that limit the damage and get you back on track: Internet Scambusters #285
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Identity theft causes misery for millions of people every year. The nightmare gets worse when people don't know what to do to combat the crime if they are victims.
Today, we highlight 7 of the most important things you must do to limit the damage caused by identity theft scammers. We explain who you need to notify and what documentation you must have.
Plus, we've added some bonus tips on how to make the process go smoothly and keep your sanity!
Let's get started...
The 7 Things You Must Do If You Believe
You Are A Victim Of Identity Theft
Identity theft -- it's a moment we all dread happening. You get a credit card statement packed with things you didn't buy. Or a bill collection agency contacts you for overdue debts you didn't run up. Or you apply for a loan only to find what you thought was your great credit record has been wrecked.
These are just some of the ways you might discover you're the victim of identity theft -- when someone steals your personal financial details, like credit card and Social Security numbers and then passes themselves off as you while they go on a spending spree or even assume your identity for employment.
Once you get over the initial shock of discovery though, there are several key things you can do to limit the impact of the crime, to minimize your own personal financial loss and to get your credit record -- and your life -- back on the rails as soon as possible.
We've compiled a list of 7 of the most important things you should do as soon as you know you're the victim of identity theft. This isn't legal advice -- we recommend you talk to your attorney if you are an ID theft victim.
Nonetheless, here are 7 things to do as quickly as you can:
- Tell the major credit bureaus -- Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Call them or visit their websites. Don't rely, as some suggest, on one agency promising to tell the others.Request free copies of your current reports, telling the bureaus you think you're the victim of identity fraud. Ask them to issue a credit freeze or fraud alert and add a statement to your credit record. New credit can't be issued without your personal approval.
- Tell the Social Security Administration if the thief has or may have access to your Social Security number. Call the SSA Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271.If it's possible someone has used your identity to get employment, request and check your Social Security and Earnings Benefit Statement for jobs you've never had. Work with the SSA to unravel what has happened and correct your records. A new Social Security number is almost impossible to get.
- Tell the Police. File an Identity Theft Report and make sure you get a copy that you can, in turn, copy and send to the credit bureaus and anyone who claims you owe them money. Sometimes these can be filed online.This is actually very important. Although you probably won't get much police action (sadly, ID theft is just too common a crime -- it happens to too many people every year and the police don't have the resources to follow through), there are two reasons filing a report is still important.First, if the police are able to find an identity thief, your report can be instrumental in prosecuting them. Second, you'll need the police report as documentation as you try to rebuild your credit.
- Tell your bank, credit card or store card companies. Close accounts that have been tampered with. If in doubt, close it.Important: Insist they tag closed accounts with the word 'closed at customer's request'; other wording like 'card stolen' can affect your credit rating. Cancel any stolen checks.
- File an ID Theft Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). They maintain a database of identity thefts.Get it notarized.This is especially useful if someone has opened a new account in your name, rather than hijacked an existing account.The FTC website is a great resource for guidance on ID theft.
- Tell everyone else: make sure to notify every single organization whose membership/ID cards, customer numbers or other property may have been stolen. These might include:
- Your cell phone company
- The DMV (for driver's license)
- The US Postal Service (if your address is being used fraudulently)
- The US State Department (for passports)
- Your health insurer
- Even your local library
- Utility companies, city or county authorities (if your identity has been used to obtain their services)
- Change all passwords and pin numbers on any accounts or cards you are 100% certain are not compromised.There are a number of other things you might want to do, depending on the circumstances -- like checking your house deed records or other documents where thieves may have forged signatures.Important: keep a written record of everything you do, everyone you deal with, the names of the people you speak with (always get their names), the dates and times you spoke to them, their phone numbers and any other reference numbers they give you.Ensure you have documentation for every disputed purchase or debt -- from the card companies and any creditors who say you owe them money. Keep all of these documents forever.And when the whole thing is over, go back to the credit bureaus and work with them to rebuild your credit record accurately if it has been damaged.
Above all, follow these rules throughout the process:
- Don't panic or lose your temper; you'll waste time.
- Be prepared to spend a lot of time sorting things out; never give up; be absolutely meticulous.
- If you know how the theft happened, take whatever steps are necessary to make sure it doesn't occur again. You can find more information on identity theft at our Identity Theft Information Center.
- With effort and a sprinkling of good luck, you can put this whole experience behind you and start anew, with your sanity intact and your finances in the recovery room.If your wallet or credit card was stolen, you can find additional tips in our article: What to Do if Your Credit Card or Wallet is Stolen.Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!