by Mike Murphy
You wake up one day and realize there’s someone out there running around with your identity.
You’re getting calls from creditors you’ve never even heard of before.
A new bank account has been opened under your name at another bank. And the IRS sent you a letter demanding money for unpaid taxes.
Sadly, every year, this happens way too often to unassuming Americans.
But what should you do after identity theft happens to you?
What steps and actions should you take from day one?
That’s what this guide will show you. You’ll see step-by-step what you need to do when you’re in this unfortunate situation.
You’ll know which agencies you need to get in touch with and all the other actions you need to take. This will help you avoid additional damage to your finances and reputation.
Take this process one step at a time and keep going through each step until you’ve completed all of them.
If you suspect you’re a victim identity theft, or you become aware that some unusual activity has occurred on your accounts, then we recommend you take the following actions :
1. Contact the Federal Trade Commission
The FTC (Federal Trade Commission) compiles and holds information pertaining to all reported identity theft cases.
They have no law enforcement capabilities, but the information they hold can be used by law enforcement agencies (such as the FBI) to support cases and bring about criminal charges.
Visit www.identifytheft.gov to learn more.
The reporting process will include a recovery plan that you can follow, along with letter and form templates you can use for police reports and dispute any fraudulent activity conducted in your name.
2. Contact Credit Agencies
You should look to contact the fraud alert department in one of the credit reporting agencies as soon as possible and explain the situation – even if you’re unsure if you are a victim of identity theft.
One credit reporting agency has a responsibility to inform the other credit reporting agencies.
Have them place an immediate fraud alert on your credit report.
This will prevent identity thieves from conducting other activities such as opening accounts in your name.
For the next 90 days, no credit will be allowed on the account without informing you first to legitimize the transaction.
3. File a Police Report
Impersonating another person or obtaining and using other persons accounts for financial gain constitutes a criminal offense.
As this is a crime, file a police report. Credit reporting agencies will need the police report if they are to investigate any fraudulent activity
4. Contact Banks, Lenders and the IRS
Next, you need to let your banks, lenders, the IRS, and insurance companies know of the situation, so contact them.
Request that any accounts in your name are closed, and new ones opened with fresh login and password details.
If you’re a victim of identity theft, then you’re entitled to a free credit report.
Request this about one month after you’ve reported the incident.
Here’s what to look out for…
Report any unusual information from the above to the credit agency.
5. Reverse Fraudulent Transactions
Contact all your credit card lenders. Inform them of the situation and ensure that any transactions that are on your account are reversed so you’re not held liable for payments you didn’t make.
There is zero-cost fraud protection now offered by lots of credit card companies that will mean you will not be held liable for financial charges made on your account by fraudsters.
Here are the credit reporting agency numbers.
6. Change Your Online Accounts
Often you may not know the extent of details that criminals have obtained.
Make a list of all your online accounts, anything from your email to your storecard or social media and change any passwords to highly encrypted passwords.
7. Periodic Credit Check
This may take some time to fully uncover and resolve.
So be sure to check your credit reports periodically.
Set monthly reminders for the next 12 months so you can check that no new fraudulent activities have occurred.
8. Remove New Occurrences
Your credit details could always be sold on to other criminals, so they can be used for some time after the initial incidents.
Being vigilant with your accounts means you can spot new or potentially fraudulent activities.
9. Correct Inaccuracies
Only you are going to know if your credit has been affected further after any initial incident. So once you know of any further incidences, contact the credit reporting agencies to correct any mistakes.
Again, it’s important to take quick action.
10. Stay Alert, Aware and Proactive
Unfortunately, after you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you must now stay on top of what’s happening with your personal info.
But that can be a whole lot of work because your personal info is kept in a lot of different places. Both online and offline.
How can you possibly keep track of all that info on a daily basis?
After all, you have a job, family, and other obligations to keep up with.
So how can you stay one step ahead of the identity thieves?
Millions of Americans have turned to identity theft protection services.
These services help protect your identity by monitoring your personal information for you.
Then they alert you when something suspicious is detected.
Instead of doing all the work yourself, you pay one of these ID protection companies to do it for you.
It’s an extra layer of protection that many are happily paying between $20-$30 per month for.
We compared the top companies and services in the industry.
And our list of the best identity theft protection services shows you which companies do the best job of defending your identity.
You’ll see which companies are worth your consideration and which ones you should avoid.
But remember, it’s just one layer of protection.
You also must be vigilante with your data.
Example of the Methods Used to Steal Your identity
Here’s a few ways thieves will try to get a hold of your personal info…
Theft of your credit information
Your data is stolen and used to impersonate you – most often for money, perhaps taking a loan or signing an agreement. Identity thieves who are in possession of your documents or personal data have a very valuable asset that can be used to obtain large sums using your credit.
Conducting false business in your name
Fraudsters with your data can easily set up a fictitious company and trade fraudulently with accounts set up using your identity. This is often used for tax refund fraud.
Rent a hotel room
When you check into a hotel, you present your ID card to the hotel for inspection which allows the receptionist to verify the details. This is an opportunity to use your details for fraudulent purchases. The same can occur when renting an apartment.
Theft of a rented car
A contract needs to be signed in your name before a rental car is made available. Fraudsters using your personal data or documents can rent a car on your behalf.
These are just some situations that can occur when thieves obtain and use your identity against you.
Often, we do not know fraud is being committed until it’s too late.
Nowadays, identity theft is becoming more and more hi-tech, but ways of catching them and correcting errors are also becoming easier and more “connected”. It can be corrected, so it’s best not to panic.
Follow the steps above and there will be people and organizations that will help you.
We hope this has been a useful guide in understanding identity theft and what to do if it happens to you.
If you need any further help, or to check out our services, then contact us, or see our information page for more details.
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