What to do if Your Identity is Stolen
Maybe you’ve received threatening phone calls from collection agencies demanding payment for loans you didn’t take out. Perhaps you’ve just been told you already have a certain credit card open after submitting its initial application.
Whether it’s either of those scenarios or something equally concerning, it’s important to take action right away. Here are the exact reasons why identity theft is so dangerous and what you can do about it.
How Dangerous is Identity Theft?
Aside from things like stealing your credit card information, there are other equally dangerous things that can happen with stolen identities.
Identity thieves can use your personal information to:
- Give the police or the courts false information
- Get a hold of your health insurance information and use it to get medical care or prescriptions for themselves
- File a tax return in your name and steal your refund
- Take out a loan in your name
- Withdraw money from your financial accounts
So, if you suspect someone stole your identity, take action right away to avoid extensive problems.
How Can I Find Out if Someone is Using My Identity?
Even if you’re careful about what you post in public, thieves can still find ways to grab your sensitive information. Given the recent high-profile cases like the Equifax® data breach, we know that securely stored information can still be vulnerable.
Here are a few signs that someone might have stolen your identity:
- You stop receiving bills in the mail
- Debt collectors are calling you about loans that you have no knowledge of
- You find a number of charges on your credit report that you aren’t familiar with
- You receive medical bills for services that you haven’t had
- There are bank account withdrawals that are unaccounted for
- Your medical claims are getting rejected because your health provider has records indicating you’re past the limit on your benefits
- There’s a notification from the IRS that you have more than one tax return filed in your name in the same year
- Your wallet was stolen, and it contained identification such as your Social Security card, license and other forms of ID
If any of the above events occurred, you may be a victim of identity theft.
What to do if Your Identity is Stolen
If you think your identity has been stolen, you need to act immediately. According to the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), you have rights. This includes getting copies of your credit reports, placing a freeze on your credit reports, placing a fraud alert with major reporting bureaus, getting information from debt collectors, and stopping businesses from reporting inaccurate information to the credit bureaus.
You need to report identity fraud and take measures so that the thief doesn’t continue to use your information for ill intent.
Report Instances of Known Identity Theft
The first step is to start contacting creditors, government agencies and credit bureaus to let them know you think identity fraud has occurred. That means getting in touch with companies, banks, credit unions or creditors that used your personal information in the past or have it on file. This could include a request to close or freeze any compromised accounts.
Before doing so, consider reporting instances of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission first. The FTC can generate a report to prove your identity was stolen. This document can be used while following up with the necessary companies. Head to the FTC website or call (877) 438-4338.
You’ll also want to take it a step further and contact your health insurance provider and make sure that nobody has tried to use your insurance information without your permission. Then contact government agencies such as your local DMV or state licensing agency to place a flag on your driver’s license number in case an identity thief tries to use information on your license or state ID.
Next, reach out to law enforcement. Bring your FTC identity theft report, proof of current address, government-issued ID and any other pertinent information. If you can, get a copy of the police report. There’s also the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center where you can file an online complaint so that it can alert authorities. If you want to make sure you’re not the victim of a tax fraud, contact the IRS as well.
Place Fraud Alerts
At the very least, contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian™ or TransUnion®. Once you place a fraud alert, the reporting agency you contact is required to notify the others.
A fraud alert lasts one year so it’ll make it more challenging for anyone to open new accounts using your information – businesses will need to verify your identity before issuing credit. You can apply for a fraud alert by phone, online or mail.
Get Copies of Your Credit Reports
You want to get copies of your credit report from the three major reporting agencies so you can check to see if there are any transactions that you don’t recognize and report them. There are extended fraud alerts where you’re able to receive two free credit reports within 12 months from the major credit bureaus after you request an alert.
Also, consider placing a security freeze if you’re certain your identity has been stolen. This means a credit reporting agency cannot release information about your credit report without your approval. It could help provide extra security if you’re concerned that someone will try to open an account in your name.
You also have the right to ask reporting agencies to block information as a result of identity theft.
Get Information on Accounts
If you discover fraudulent information in your credit report, you can contact creditors or businesses for copies of records related to any accounts or transactions that used your personal information. This includes any debts incurred or copies of applications. Request information in writing – companies may require you to prove your situation with an FTC identity theft report and a police report.
Cancel all Fraudulent Accounts
Call all companies and cancel fraudulent accounts. Contact any legitimate existing accounts and either open new ones or secure them by creating secure passwords for them. There are many options for generating secure passwords. Check online and pick from the available websites.
How Long Does it Take to Recover From Identity Theft?
Bouncing back from identity theft depends on a few factors, including extent and type of theft. Unfortunately, it can take anywhere from months to years to fully recover from a stolen identity. Hopefully you’ll be able to find all discrepancies, report them and close all fraudulent accounts in a timely manner.
Once you do that it’s important to work with the companies and creditors involved to reverse fraudulent charges. Plus, you’ll need to continue to monitor your accounts like a hawk (such as signing up for transaction alerts), including your credit reports.
There are free credit monitoring services like RocketHQSM that will send you alerts such as new inquiries or accounts opened so that you’ll know as soon as possible if there is any fraudulent activity.
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