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12 things to do if your identity is stolen

12 things to do if your identity is stolen

Once identity thieves have access to your personal information, they can drain your bank account, rack up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or even obtain medical treatment using your health insurance. Worse, a thief could even file a tax return in her name and get a refund.

The best way to defend against identity theft is prevention. But, if that fails, you need to handle the situation properly. If you notice any mysterious charges on your credit card, or your bank contacts you to verify the charges, your account may be at risk. If you think someone has stolen your identity, minimize the damage by following these steps.

1) Set up a fraud alert – It’s important to report that your identity has been stolen. Request that a fraud alert be placed on your credit file. A fraud alert puts a red flag on your credit report and notifies lenders and creditors alike that they must take additional steps to confirm your identity before extending credit.

You should also request copies of your credit report from the credit bureaus. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if your report is inaccurate due to fraud. Review your reports carefully to ensure that no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes have been made to your existing accounts. To report fraud, contact…


800.525.6285 (TTY: 800.255.0056) – PO Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348-5069


888.397.3742 (TTY: 800.972.0322) – PO Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

trans union

800.680.7289 (TTY: 800.553.7803) – Fraud Victim Assistance division, PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634-6970

2) Contact creditors or financial institutions where fraudulent accounts have been opened: Creditors can include credit unions, banks, credit card companies, phone companies, utility companies, and other lenders. Talk to someone in each creditor’s security or fraud department and follow up with a written letter. It is also very important to notify credit card companies in writing because that is the procedure established by law for resolving credit card billing errors. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new personal identification numbers (PINs) and passwords. Avoid using readily available information like your mother’s maiden name, her date of birth, and the last four digits of your Social Security Number for your PIN.

3) File a report with the local police or the police where the identity theft occurred. Get a copy of the report in case the credit union, bank, credit card company, or others need proof of the crime in the future.

4) File a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC): After you have a good idea about the extent of your financial problems, you should file a report with the FTC. You only need to do this if you believe your identity has been stolen. The FTC doesn’t handle credit card fraud, so if only one account was tapped, you probably aren’t a victim of identity theft and don’t need to file a report.

What are your next steps? Identity thieves can cause problems with your personal finances, but you can’t let them rule your life. There are a few things you can do to take back control of your financial life:

5) Identify and close the account in question – The most common way to discover compromised accounts is to notice fraudulent charges after they have been posted to your account. When you become aware of the situation, contact your financial institution as soon as possible, dispute the charges and request to block or close your account.

6) Look for other unauthorized charges – You should review your other accounts and scan past statements for any additional charges you don’t recognize. If you find any charges you didn’t make, call your financial institution and advise them of the potential problem. You may need to suspend several of your accounts if, in fact, your identity was stolen.

7) If someone has stolen your mail: new credit cards, bank statements, pre-approved credit offers, or worse, tax information; report it to your local postal inspector.

8) If you believe an identity thief has interfered with your investments or a personal brokerage account, notify your broker or account manager and the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) immediately. You can file a complaint with the SEC by visiting the Complaint Center. Be sure to include as many details as possible.

9) If an identity thief has established new telephone service in your name; are making unapproved calls that appear to come from your cell phone and are billed to your cell phone, contact your phone service provider immediately to cancel the account.

10) If you suspect that an unauthorized user of a driver’s license is using your name or Social Security number, contact your Department of Motor Vehicles.

11) If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy on your behalf, write to the US Trustee in the region where the bankruptcy was filed.

12) Most importantly, open new accounts and move on. Most financial institutions recommend opening new accounts after identity theft, even those that haven’t been compromised.

Once that’s done, how do you make sure you reduce the risk of identity theft happening again? Be sure to implement preventive measures in the future. There are many ways to make yourself a less likely target, and they all require less work than recovering from being a victim:

Check your credit reports regularly

Read your account and statements

Review your Explanation of Medical Benefits

Respond to IRS notices

Protect your personal information

Secure your Social Security Number

Protect your online data and personal information

Most of these defensive measures are simple. By being diligent and protecting your personal information, you’ll find that you’ll never need these tips.

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