If you think you are an identity theft victim, these simple actions will help you prevent further damage.
Check Your Credit Report
You would be surprised how few people check their free annual credit reports each year. Before I started practicing in this area, I didn't check them every year. But I sure do now. You probably already know how to check your reports at annualcreditreport.com. I've provided the link below.
When you check your report, don't just look at the accounts and whether they are in good standing. Your credit files will have contact information, including addresses and phone numbers. Really look at the contact information to make sure they are correct. Frequently, credit reports contain phone numbers that are almost correct with only one or two numbers incorrect or perhaps transposed. Maybe a friend's or a relative's address is listed, but you never lived there, you just visited. These should be disputed.
It is easy to get incorrect addresses and phone numbers deleted from your file. They are routinely deleted once they are disputed. This might be because the credit agencies know they are commonly used to open fake accounts. So take advantage of the easiest way to protect yourself from identity theft and have anything that is not 100% correct deleted from your file.
Dispute Incorrect Account Status Information
If you find incorrect account status information, it is best to dispute it with all three credit bureaus in writing. You can dispute information online but the online forms contain mandatory arbitration agreements that you do not have to agree to when submitting a written dispute. You may want to preserve your right to a jury trial in the event there are inaccuracies in your credit files that are not cleared up in accordance with federal law.
File an Identity Theft Affidavit
Once you dispute negative account information, the next step is to visit IdentityTheft.gov a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website where you can generate an identity theft affidavit. The link is provided below. This affidavit will be helpful when contacting a creditor or debt collector about the identity theft. The creditor might also require you to complete a police report in order to process your complaint, but often the FTC affidavit will be enough to start an investigation.
Obtain a Fraud Alert With the Credit Bureaus
After you've determined the size and scope of the identity theft, the next step is to cut off the identity thief's access to your credit lines or other financial information. To stop any unauthorized use, you can contact each reporting agency and ask for a "fraud alert," which is an alert that you place on your credit information. The credit reporting agencies will all tell you that they will report the alert to the other credit reporting agencies and they are required by the Fair Credit Reporting Act to do so, but call all three anyway. You are a victim and you need to take care of yourself.
A credit freeze won't stop you from being able to use your credit cards, but you will have to approve each new application for credit, usually by a written authorization sent to your home. For example, once the credit freeze is in place, a lender must contact you and verify that you are the person who asked for the new line of credit before approving the account. It also means that you won't be able to immediately obtain a store credit card so you can get the promotional 30% off your entire purchase, but that is probably a minor inconvenience if you are seriously worried about identity theft.
Alert Any Bank You Have an Account With
If you think your information has been compromised, contact all of your current banks and let them know your concerns. Make sure the bank has your current phone number and address. I would sign up for paper statements (sorry, environment). Ask about any recent changes to your account, particularly overdraft protection. If you have overdraft protection on a compromised account, the identity thief has access to the money in your account and they can create a bad debt that will eventually be reported to the credit bureaus.
Identity theft is awful and there is no way to completely protect yourself. But if you are proactive and investigate the status of your accounts and credit information, you will be far less likely to become a victim.
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