Discovering that someone else is opening accounts with your personal information is terrifying. All of a sudden, bill collectors are coming to you, thinking you owe them money that you had nothing to do with. What are the steps to take if your identity is stolen?
Identity theft can lead to a lower credit score, loss of income, and difficulty getting approved for housing, loans, and more.
Thankfully, there are systems set up to help people that experience this stressful situation. The government, law enforcement, and credit agencies are ready to help identity theft victims.
What is identity theft?
Identity theft is a crime in which someone uses another person’s personal identifying information such as name or social security number to commit fraud.
This can look as small as someone using your credit card information to purchase things without your permission or as grandiose as taking out major loans with your personal information.
It is illegal for someone to use another person’s personal information as their own. It’s not only theft, but it is also fraud.
Steps to Take if Your Identity Is Stolen
If you are a victim of identity theft, it might affect your credit score and even cost you money. These are the steps to take if your identity is stolen.
1. File a Report With the FTC
The very first thing you should do is notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that you are a victim of identity theft. The information you give them can be utilized by the FBI and local law enforcement agencies to pursue criminal charges.
Plus, when you file a report, the FTC has a plethora of helpful information that will tell you what you should do next.
Go to Identitytheft.gov and fill out a complete report. After you submit it, they will even give you pre-written letters that you can use to file police reports. They also have information on how to dispute fraudulent charges.
2. File an Identity Theft Claim
If you have identity theft insurance, then you might be entitled to compensation, especially if you lost wages or you need funds to pay for a notary or public records searches fees.
Major insurers such as Allstate or State Farm offer identity theft insurance. Or, you can purchase insurance from companies like LifeLock or Sontiq.
Is identity theft insurance worth it? Speak with a financial advisor after looking at some of the most popular plans. Some plans won’t cover loss of money from a bank account and others have high deductibles, so it might not be a good idea for everyone.
3. Contact the DMV and IRS
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they may be able to obtain personal identification with it. Contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles and ask them to place a flag on your license number. This will also help law enforcement when they are attempting to track down the guilty parties.
You should also reach out to the Internal Revenue Service to make sure you aren’t a victim of tax-related identity theft. For example, someone might be trying to use your information to receive a tax refund.
4. Contact Credit Reporting Agencies
Even if identity theft hasn’t affected your credit yet, you should still put a credit freeze in place. Let them know if there are any fraud alerts connected to your personal information.
Reach out to at least one of the three major credit agencies, but all three are best.
The three major credit reporting agencies are Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.
A fraud alert lasts one year. This prevents someone from opening new accounts using your social security number or other personal information. You can still open an account, but you’ll have to verify your ID before they can issue credit.
You can also request an extended fraud alert that lasts seven years. If you request a credit freeze, you can lift it at any time.
Here is the full contact information for all three credit bureaus.
- Equifax Alerts
P.O. Box 105069
Atlanta, GA 30374
- Experian Fraud Center
P.O. Box 9554
Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion Fraud Alert
TransUnion Fraud Victim
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
5. Notify Local Law Enforcement
Finally, you should contact your local law enforcement and notify them about your identity theft. Filing a police report is the first step to being able to arrest and prosecute the thief.
Ask for a copy of the report that you can keep in your records. Do this as soon as possible, so if your information is used after you submitted the report, you have a paper trail proving it wasn’t you.
When it comes to catching criminals, local law enforcement can only arrest people in their jurisdiction. If your identity was stolen by someone overseas or in another state, your police report can be sent to the FBI if the fraud warrants their involvement.
Prevent Identity Theft
Nobody wants to be a victim of identity theft and there are a lot of steps you can take to prevent it. Monitor your credit closely – the sooner you catch any type of fraudulent activity, the less loss you could suffer.
Contact a financial advisor in Eau Claire, WI to discuss any risky activities you might be doing and how to protect yourself from possible identity theft. Whether that means using a VPN when you are using public Wi-Fi or setting up identity insurance, a financial advisor will help you make smart decisions to protect your credit and personal information.