What to Do If Your Identity Is Stolen
07 September 2017
Has your identity been stolen? Many individuals can have their identity stolen for months -- or even years -- without realizing it. Others begin to see the signs immediately. But regardless, if you currently suspect that your identity has been stolen, you need to act fast.
Learn to Identify the Signs of a Stolen Identity
- Calls from your fraud department -- Your credit card and banking companies may contact you regarding strange transactions, such as a gas purchase at a station that is the next state over. If you have no idea how these transactions could have occurred, it's likely your credit card information is being used by a scammer.
- Collection calls regarding unfamiliar accounts -- If you receive a collection call for a debt that you don't owe, you shouldn't brush it off. It's possible that a criminal has been opening accounts in your name -- and these debts may be legitimate debts even if they aren't your own.
- Strange items on your credit report -- Mistakes do happen, but if you have open accounts on your credit report that you know that you didn't open, it's very likely that your identity has been stolen and that these accounts are going to eventually go into collections.
Call Your Bank and Credit Card CompaniesUsing the number on the back of your debit and credit cards, contact your bank and credit card companies. Get all of your debit and credit cards replaced and alert your company that you've recently experienced suspicious activity on your accounts. Your bank will be able to flag your accounts for additional scrutiny. Once you receive your new debit and credit cards, you may want to check on any accounts -- such as mobile phone accounts -- that you have on auto pay, so that no bills are missed.
Pull Your Credit ReportsIf you are located in the U.S., pull a credit report from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax and look for any accounts that may be suspicious. You can pull a credit report from each of these bureaus for free once a year. If you have already done this earlier in the year, you can still purchase a credit report directly from the company. Once you have pulled your credit reports, you should request that your credit report be frozen. Freezing your credit report will prevent any new credit lines from being initiated without your express permission.
File a Police ReportAt your local police station, you should file a police report regarding any transactions that went through or any credit lines that were open in your name. This is an important step: without filing a police report, it may be impossible to dispute items with your bank or your credit card companies. Once you have filed the report, you should take a copy of the case number and any other relevant information. These are details you will need to submit in order to fix your credit history and receive refunds for any unauthorized transactions.
Dispute Fraudulent ActivityFor transactions, you will file a transaction dispute with the fraud department of your bank or credit cards, with the copy of the police report and any other information they request. For credit lines, you will need to file a dispute with the credit bureaus, again including the police report information. It is very likely that these issues will be fixed in a timely manner and that they will be completely fixed without much involvement from you -- but in the meantime, your credit score may be impacted. If you receive calls from collectors during this time, you can refer them to the police report.
Invest in Credit Report MonitoringOnce your identity has been stolen, it's possible that it can be stolen again. Your personally identifiable information may be on a scammer's list somewhere and this information, such as your social security number, could be circulating. Invest in a credit report monitoring service for at least a year following.
Though identity theft can be scary, it's actually fairly easy to recover from -- as long as you follow the above steps. By reacting swiftly and creating a paper trail, you can usually recover all of your money and your credit score. But you do need to act fast, as the longer the identity theft is unnoticed, the more difficult it is to prove.