Anger and disbelief are understandable first reactions to identity theft, followed by a feeling of being overwhelmed and helpless to correct the situation. It is difficult to believe that people make a full-time occupation of preying on others. Yet it is an unavoidable truth. For whatever reason – drugs, greed, laziness – these thieves operate by trading on your good name to obtain money, goods or services. In the aftermath of identity theft, victims are left to pick up the pieces of their shattered finances, credit, and peace of mind.
How will I know?
Unless you are the victim of a robbery and are able to react immediately, you may not discover the identity theft until it has already occurred. However, if you are being vigilant, you will notice a discrepancy on one of your account statements. Otherwise, you may not realize you are a victim until your credit card is declined or you can’t qualify for a loan despite your excellent credit history. If some of your mail goes missing, if you begin receiving unexpected calls from collection agencies – all these are signs that you may have been targeted by identity thieves.
Although there are several things you can do to reduce your risk of being targeted by a scam, there is still an unfortunate possibility that it could happen to you.
If it does, do not panic. Help is available. Because identity theft has become more widespread in recent years, financial institutions and law enforcement agencies are more familiar with the crime and have developed processes and procedures to deal with it.
Close your accounts. Close any accounts that you know have been accessed or compromised or any new accounts that have been opened in your name. Dispute all fraudulent charges. Call the fraud department of each company immediately and follow up in writing, including copies of supporting documents. The company will provide you with its own forms to complete. Make copies of all relevant paperwork.
Place a fraud alert on your credit report. Contact one of the three consumer reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert informs creditors that they need to take added precautions before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to existing accounts. You only need to contact one of the companies, as they are legally required to contact the other two. However, you may want to follow up with the other two to ensure that they have been notified.
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
P.O. Box 9532
Allen, TX 75013
Tel: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
Fraud Victim Assistance Division
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Once you place a fraud alert, you are able to request a free copy of your credit report from all three agencies. To place a fraud alert, you will need to provide proof of your identity, which may include your Social Security number. Fraud alerts are either initial or extended. An initial fraud alert lasts for at least 90 days and is appropriate for those who have been identity theft victims or believe they are about to be victimized. An extended alert remains active for seven years and is for those who have already had their identities stolen. Unlike an initial alert, an extended alert requires potential creditors to contact personally you before issuing you credit.
Be aware that fraud alerts, while important, do not stop identity thieves from charging purchases to your existing accounts nor prevent them from opening accounts that do not require credit checks.
File a report.
File a police report. The report may be required by creditors in order to recover your losses. If you request an extended fraud alert on your credit report, you will have to provide an identity theft report, which includes a copy of a report filed with the police or other law enforcement.
Contact the FTC.
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft or 1-877-ID-THEFT. The more information the FTC has on identity theft and other forms of fraud, the better able it will be to help inform and protect consumers. The FTC will also share the information with law enforcement agencies.
A final word
As far as identity theft goes, the best defense is a good defense. That is why it is crucial to monitor your credit report and all existing accounts in your name. Look for anything out of the ordinary or unfamiliar. Treat any unsolicited contacts as potentially suspect and never, under any circumstances, give your personal information to anyone unless you have verified their identity independently. Be alert, aware and cautious. You don’t need to be paranoid; just be smart. By following the precautions outlined above, you will lessen your risk of identity theft.
There is no way to eliminate the risk completely, and even the most careful people can become victims. The important thing to remember if you become a victim is to take action right away. The more time that elapses, the more damage an identity thief can do to your credit and finances. Knowing what steps to take will help you to act quickly. Identity theft is unfortunate and upsetting, but it is a fact of life. The best thing you can do is to educate yourself so that you are well-armed and well-prepared.