The identity theft statistics are startling. In 2011, a reported 11.6 million U.S. residents fell victim to identity theft, according to Javelin Strategy and Research, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the International Revenue Service. If you or a loved one experienced a stolen identity what would you do? Where do you even start?
The FTC, the nation’s consumer protection agency recommends the following four steps be taken as soon as possible.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This prevents a thief from opening any additional accounts in your name. Call any of the three major credit bureaus to place your fraud alert, they are required to contact the other two to place alerts across the board. You can call Equifax at 1-800-525-6285. When you do this, also request a copy of your credit report. Review your report for any inquires you didn’t make, accounts you didn’t open or debts that you aren’t responsible for. Also confirm that all contact information on your report is accurate. There are two main types of alerts: an initial alert and extended alert. The extended alert stays on your record for seven years and requires an identity theft report, which is filed with the reporting agency.
- Close the fraudulent or tampered with accounts. Call or speak with the security or fraud divisions at those companies and follow up with written requests and photocopies of supporting documents, sent via certified mail. Open new accounts with new, complicated Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords (taking care to avoid things like your mother’s maiden name, birth date, etc., which the thief may know about). Ask the companies how to begin the process to dispute fraudulent charges. Once everything has been resolved, be sure to get a letter showing that all disputed accounts and debts have been discharged and closed.
- File an official police report about the theft in your local jurisdiction and get a copy of the report. This may be necessary in order for you to dispute fraudulent charges.
- File a complaint with the FTC at1-877-IDTHEFT. The FTC helps law enforcement officials track down thieves and stop them and refers victims’ complaints to companies and other agencies.
Keep records of every conversation and copies of all correspondence.
Then, stay alert. Keep a very close eye on your accounts, statements and credit reports. Consider identity theft insurance as a way to protect yourself in the future. Follow up with your bank or credit card companies if bills or statements don’t arrive on time. Check your mail promptly. Shred documents with sensitive information. Lock up your most important documents at home in a safe.