April is National Financial Literacy Month. As part of our educational article series, we are focusing on what you should be doing if your identity was stolen. With increased use of credit/debit cards in our daily transactions both online and outside, you are ever more vulnerable to becoming a victim of identity theft. If your financial goal is to eliminate debt, falling victim to identity theft would be a major setback.
Investopedia defines identity theft as the crime of obtaining the personal or financial information of another person for the sole purpose of assuming that person’s name or identity in order to make transactions or purchases. What should you do if you become a victim? The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, has prepared a guide to help you repair the damage that identity theft can cause, and reduce the risk of identity theft happening to you.
What Should You Do If Your Identity Was Stolen?
Your identity can be stolen using conventional methods where the criminals sift through trash bins for confidential personal information or by high-tech methods such as credit card skimmers that obtain your information at sales terminals or other locations where a card is swiped. Either way, the moment you notice anything suspicious on your banking or any other financial statements, your identity is at risk. The Federal Trade Commission has described the immediate and follow-up steps you need to take to prevent any further damage.
Immediate Steps After ID Theft
Place an initial fraud alert: An initial fraud alert can make it difficult for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. This way, if and when you have an alert on your report or find your identity was stolen, a business must verify your identity before it issues any credit in your name, so it may try to contact you. Make sure that the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they are able to get in touch with you.
Order your credit reports: Once you place a fraud alert, you are entitled to a free credit report. Make sure you understand your rights and obtain the necessary information from your credit reporting agency. As a secondary step if you are aware of the accounts that are subjected to identity theft, make sure you keep the relevant parties informed to block those accounts at the earliest opportunity.
Create an identity theft report: According to the Federal Trade Commission, you can take the following steps to create your identity theft report as soon as you discover your identity was stolen.
- Submit a complaint about the theft to the FTC. When you finish writing all the details, print a copy of the report. It will print as an Identity Theft Affidavit.
- File a police report about the identity theft, and get a copy of the police report or the report number.
- Bring your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit when you file a police report. Attach your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report to make an Identity Theft Report.
Follow-up Steps Post ID Theft
Review your credit report: Once you receive your credit report make sure you go through it carefully to see whether other fraudulent transactions or accounts are listed. The information in your credit report can be used to evaluate applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, so it’s important that the information is accurate and up-to-date.
Dispute errors with credit reporting companies: If you find mistakes when you review your credit reports, send letters explaining the mistakes to:
- The 3 nationwide credit reporting companies (Equifax, Experian TransUnion).
- The fraud department of each business that reported a fraudulent transaction on your existing accounts.
- The fraud department of each business that reported a new account opened in your name by an identity thief.
If the errors result from identity theft and you have an identity theft report, ask the credit reporting companies and business to block the disputed information from appearing on your credit reports.
Get copies of documents the identity thief used: Ask for copies of any documents the identity thief used to open a new account or make charges in your name. These documents can help prove the identity theft.
These are some of the first things that you need to do the moment you realize your identity has been compromised plus some of follow-up steps. You can get a complete overview of what you should do if your identity was stolen and even file an identity theft report on the FTC’s Identity Theft website. Refer to ACCC’s ID Theft handout and What To Do After ID Theft hand out for a more concise outlook on ID theft.
If you are struggling with credit card debt and seeking help, contact American Consumer Credit Counseling to speak with a certified counselor at 800-769-3571.