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Identity theft is the deliberate use of someone else's identity, usually as a method to gain a financial advantage or obtain credit and other benefits in the other person's name. This guide covers steps to protect yourself.
1. IdentityTheft.gov is a website that helps you recover from identity theft. You:
The plan will vary depending on what kind of accounts were created or hacked.
2. Notify affected creditors or bank
Shut down any affected bank account or credit line. Working with the credit card company or the bank as soon as possible can save you money. In general, most credit cards have zero-liability policies, but the Fair Credit Billing Act specifies that your maximum liability for unauthorized charges is $50.
ATM or debit cards and electronic transfers from your bank account fall under the Electronic Fund Transfer Act. Under this act, consumers have to move fast. Reporting a lost or stolen ATM or debit card before any fraudulent transactions means the victim is off the hook for any that happen afterward. Contact your lenders, banks, and insurance companies and let them know your situation.
If necessary, close fraudulent accounts. Contact the fraud department at each business where a new account was opened in your name to explain that someone stole your identity and request that the account be closed. The FTC provides a sample letter you can use to dispute these accounts. Include a copy of your identity theft report. In some cases, the creditor may also ask for a police report, which you must file with local law enforcement first.
3. Put a fraud alert on your credit report
Contact one of the credit reporting agencies' fraud alert departments and place a fraud alert on your credit report. This prevents identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name. Many credit card companies offer no-cost fraud protection where you would not be held financially responsible for charges made to your account by thieves who steal your personal information. In order to receive the most protection possible, though, it is important you call one of the credit reporting agencies as soon as you possibly can.
One call is enough. The credit reporting agency you contacted must contact the other two. Each agency will place a fraud alert on their version of your credit report. For the next 90 days, your creditors and other businesses that want to offer you credits will see the alert on your credit report. If anyone asks for credit in your name, the appropriate lender will contact you to verify your identity and find out if you asked for credit.
Equifax Fraud Department
Experian Fraud Department
TransUnion Fraud Department
4. Check your credit reports
After adding a fraud alert to your credit file, you’ll automatically receive a free credit report from each of the three agencies. Check your reports for signs of fraud — new accounts you didn’t open, hard inquiries you don’t recognize, payment history you can’t account for, an employer you never worked for and personal information unfamiliar to you. Pull each of your credit reports at least once over the course of the next year to check for fraudulent activity. Use an identity theft report to get fraudulent information removed from your reports.
5. Consider putting a credit freeze on your reports
A credit freeze prevents the credit reporting agencies from releasing your credit report to new creditors, which will prevent anyone from opening additional new accounts in your name. You’ll pay as much as $10 to place a freeze at each bureau depending on the state you live in; it’s usually free if you can prove you’re an ID theft victim.
Alternatively, you can put a free fraud alert on your credit reports instead. This will require creditors to take additional steps to verify your identity before issuing credit.
The fraud alert usually lasts for 90 days and can be renewed. But after you fill out the identity theft report online, you can request an extended fraud alert that stays on your credit report for seven years.
6. Go to the police
Report the crime to the police departments where you live, and where the crime occurred.
Securing a police report is of utmost importance. The FTC provides a cover letter to give to local law enforcement which stresses the importance of police reports for consumer victims.
Make sure the police report lists all fraud accounts. Give as much documented information as possible and give them a copy of the ID theft complaint form from the FTC.
If the police cannot give you a copy of their report, request that they sign your FTC complaint form and provide the police report number in the “Law Enforcement Report” section. Keep the phone number of your police investigator handy on a contact sheet for future reference.
7. Contact the FTC
Contact the FTC at 1 (877) 438-4338. Fill out the ID theft complaint and affidavit format the FTC’s website and print out for your records. Together with a police report, it serves as your ID theft report, which will help you dispute fraudulent accounts.
According to the FTC website, an ID theft report is more comprehensive than a police report alone. Your local police department may incorporate the ID theft complaint form into its report or they might have another way of providing the full details needed for an ID theft report.
If you don’t file a police report, you can use the complaint as an ID theft affidavit to request companies to remove you from being responsible for unauthorized new accounts. However, the affidavit doesn’t provide as many legal protections as an ID theft report.
8. Send creditors a copy of your ID theft report
Notify creditors in writing that you have been a victim of fraud and include a copy of your ID theft report.
Further, ask each affected creditor to provide you and your investigating law enforcement agency with copies of the documents showing fraudulent transactions. These can help to track down the perpetrator.
9. Change all account passwords
If an account doesn’t have a password, put one on it. Avoid using obvious passwords such as the last four digits of your Social Security number or your birth date.
10. Contact the Social Security fraud hotline