The dreaded phone call comes in: there has been some suspicious activity on your credit card and the bank would like to verify that you were the one spending thousands of dollars online. Shocked and appalled, it strikes you that your identity has been stolen and that you must act quickly to protect yourself from further damage. While the news can be overwhelming at first, and you most likely want to figure out how this even happened to you, there are a few steps you should immediately take to preserve your credit and your hard-earned money.
1) Call one of the three major credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian, TransUnion)* to place a fraud alert on your credit report. It is unnecessary to call all three since the one that you contact will inform the other two agencies in addition to sending you a copy of your credit report for review. A fraud alert is extremely important since it requires companies to verify your identity before issuing a line a credit, thus preventing thieves from opening new accounts under your name.
2) If the perpetrators were able to open new accounts, contact each creditor and notify them of the fraudulent activity. They will close the accounts and most likely have you fill out a fraud affidavit.
3) For those accounts that you opened and are now compromised, contact the creditor and inform them that your identity has been stolen. Not only will they close the accounts, but many will read through the most recent charges to help you determine how long the abuse has been going on and how much has been charged to your name.
4) Contact your local police and alert them to the fraud under your name. A detective will be assigned to your case and ask for details such as where the charges occurred, how much was spent, and how your identity was stolen (internet, lost wallet, etc.). When you are finished providing the detective with all of your information, be sure to write down the detective’s name and the case number since many fraud affidavits will ask for these.
5) File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC) by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT.
6) Change all of the passwords that you use online. Since the thieves may have acquired your information through one of your password-protected accounts, think of a completely different word and try not to use the same one for all of your accounts. Also, while it may be inconvenient to type your passwords each time you want to log-in, never save your passwords online or on your computer.
7) If you lost your entire wallet or you believe that someone is using your driver’s license, visit the DMV, Secretary of State, etc. as soon as possible to get a new driver’s license number and card. Even if you just renewed your license, you will be required to take a new picture and pay all of the regular fees.
8) KEEP RECORDS!! Throughout your dealings with creditors, companies, and detectives, always write down the name of the individual you spoke with, their employer, the date and time, and a short summary of your discussion. Keep all of this information in a centralized location and make sure that it is in a safe place since it can be used as evidence in your case. While you may be more diligent at the beginning, important information may come to light later so be sure to track everything until all of your disputes are resolved.
Identity theft doesn’t have to ruin your life or your credit. By staying calm, getting organized, and taking these crucial steps, you can bounce back from this stressful situation and stop thieves dead in their tracks.