What to Do If You’re the Victim of ID Theft

By Liz Roberts

Q. I just found out that someone hijacked my credit card numbers and bought a bunch of things under my name. In addition to feeling totally violated, I’m worried about how this will affect my credit and finances. Do you have information on identity theft?

pic1A. You will probably receive a phone call from a creditor stating “you” just either made a large purchase and they suspect fraud, or you open your credit card bill as you do every month and are amazed at some extra charges that are on there. Call your credit card company immediately. Rarely will you be liable for charges over $50, and many credit card companies waive the first $50 in the case of fraud.

Check with your bank; you will usually be given a choice to close your account and reopen a new one or some banks will put a “watch” on your account and you will have to log into your account and manually approve every charge and check before it is cleared. This usually goes on for a period of 30 to 60 days. The latter isn’t the best choice, as it is labor intensive to do and your account isn’t protected from fraud as it would be if you simply closed it out and reopened a new account.

Contact Credit Bureaus

After you have done all the initial damage control, the next thing to do is to notify the credit bureaus. Report the situation to the three major credit reporting companies: Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can do it online or in writing, and you must tell these companies that your identifying information has been stolen and is being used by another person fraudulently in your name. Ask them to flag your file with a fraud alert, and ask that all creditors call you before extending credit in your name. A consumer statement will be put on your file and it will alleviate your fears of bogus accounts being opened for about 3 months.pic2

Due to provisions of the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can only place an initial fraud alert for 90 days. The credit bureaus will then send you a notice displaying your rights as an identity theft victim. As soon you receive this, write to each of the three credit bureaus to request two things: (1) an extension of the fraud alert to seven years, and (2) a free copy of your credit report. Remember to include an identity theft report when you send your letter in order to authorize the seven-year alert. Whenever you communicate with the credit companies, you should refer to the number given to your credit report and always use verified return receipt mail. Also, make sure you save all credit reports and related information for your records.

Review Your Credit Reports

As soon as you get your three credit reports, carefully examine each one. Report all fraudulent and inaccurate information in writing to the credit bureaus, as well as to the credit issuers, following the instructions that are provided with the credit reports. As soon as you notify the credit bureaus about the fraudulent information, the bureau is required to strike that information from future reports. The bureau will also notify the credit grantor of the fraudulent account(s). If it isn’t included in the report, ask the credit bureaus for the contact information of the credit grantors.

Also, tell the credit bureaus in writing that you want them to remove all inquiries that have been created due to fraudulent access. You should also ask the bureaus to contact anyone who has received your credit report in the last six months so they can be informed about the fraudulent and inaccurate information. Numerous inquiries can lower your credit score, so work diligently on getting those inquiries removed from your personal credit report.

Though these measures should set you back on track and protect your credit from the fraudulent information, they may not completely stop it from happening again. Because of this, be sure to monitor your credit reports. There are many online services that will help you monitor your credit report. If you notice that the fraudulent information is still happening, notify the proper bureaus instantly. If the problem persists for very long, you may want to consider freezing your accounts for awhile if possible to prevent any more damage.

Identity theft is an unfortunate event when it occurs, but you can fight back and get your life back quickly.

Liz Roberts is a loan consultant with New Horizon Finance.

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