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Do These 3 Things Immediately If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

After receiving calls from collections agencies and discovering multiple credit cards and bank accounts have been opened in your name, the reality hits you: Your identity has been stolen. As the victims can tell you, identity theft is very real. If you’ve now fallen victim to this growing crime, you should take immediate action.

Identity theft can happen to you even if you're careful

But what is the first thing you need to do? To start, a fraudster could have several pieces of your personally identifiable information (PII). This is unique, sensitive information like your Social Security number that can enable someone to commit more than one type of fraud in your name.

You’re likely wondering how your PII was stolen. It’s important to remember that even if you’ve been diligent in trying to keep your personal information private, the recent Equifax data breach shows your information can still be vulnerable to the myriad other ways your PII can be stolen. Take the case of three men in Florida who were sentenced for conspiracy and aggravated identity theft. The ID theft occurred when one of the defendants worked at a pediatrician’s practice and stole the PII of patients, their parents and guardians, more than 13,000 people in all.

In this article, we’ll share three steps you need to take immediately to help stop a thief from continuing to use your identity, along with additional recovery actions that will depend on the type of identity fraud.

Take these actions if you’re a victim of ID theft

If you discover you’re a victim of ID theft, you have specific rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. These include:

  • Placing fraud alerts with—and getting credit reports from—the three major U.S. credit reporting agencies (CRAs).
  • Obtaining documents related to fraudulent transactions or accounts opened using your personal information.
  • Obtaining information from debt collectors.

Along these lines, the Federal Trade Commission recommends three steps that ID theft victims should take immediately.

      1. Contact the companies and banks where you know fraud occurred.
        Call the fraud department at the companies and financial institutions where you know the thief used your identity. Part of this step is closing or freezing your accounts that have been compromised.

        As part of your request, ask that they stop reporting the inaccurate information to the credit bureaus, as well as report the revised, correct information.

      2. Place fraud alerts and get credit reports.
        You will need to contact at least one of the three major CRAs: Equifax, Experian or TransUnion. But you may want to reach out to each CRA individually to be sure they are on alert as soon as possible. The CRAs collect information about you and how you use credit, as well as whether any business has turned your debt over to a collections agency or you’ve filed for bankruptcy.

        You’ll want to request an initial 90-day fraud alert, which will make it more challenging for someone to open new accounts using your name. Once a fraud alert has been placed, a business must verify your ID before issuing credit to the person requesting it. You can apply for a fraud alert in all the ways listed below (phone, online and mail).

        Major U.S. Credit Reporting Agencies
        EquifaxExperianTransUnion

        Equifax Alerts
        888-766-0008
        Equifax Consumer
        Fraud Division
        P.O. Box 740256
        Atlanta, GA 30374

        Experian Fraud Center
        888-397-3742
        Experian
        P.O. Box 9554
        Allen, TX 75013
        TransUnion Fraud Alert
        888-909-8872
        TransUnion Fraud Victim
        Assistance Department
        P.O. Box 2000
        Chester, PA 19016

        After placing the fraud alerts, you can request a free copy of your credit report from each agency. It’s important to look at all three reports to help ensure you’re not missing anything important—because each agency’s report may be different. Review these reports carefully for transactions you don’t recognize and correct them.

      3. Report ID theft to the FTC.
        While you don’t need to report a stolen credit card to the FTC, you should report ID theft to the FTC right away. This way the FTC can create a report that you can use to prove the ID theft to businesses. To do this, you can fill out a report online or call 877-438-4338.

    Reporting ID theft to local law enforcement

  1. The FTC says you may also want to alert your local police department. When you go to your local law enforcement office, bring a copy of your FTC ID theft report, a government-issued photo ID, proof of your address, and any proof of the theft—such as collections notices. Don’t forget to ask for a copy of the police report in case you need it.  

    Since someone with your PII could file a tax return in your name, hoping to receive a fraudulent refund, make sure you respond to any notices from the IRS.

    You also can file an online complaint with the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), which gives victims of cybercrime a reporting mechanism that alerts authorities.

    Additional Steps for ID Theft Recovery

    After you’ve taken the three steps outlined above, you’re on your way to cleaning things up. But it doesn’t stop there. You’ll need a recovery plan to help resolve other negative effects and protect yourself going forward.

    If an identity thief has sensitive personal information like your Social Security number, there are different types of ID theft they may commit.  Depending on the type, you may need to take other steps such as reporting a stolen Social Security number, sorting through debt collector requests, or clearing your name of criminal charges.  

    Visit the FTC’s identity theft website for more help in creating a comprehensive ID theft recovery plan.

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