The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that more than 9 million Americans become victims of identity theft each year. An identity thief may steal and use your address, phone number, Social Security, or credit card number to commit crimes without your knowledge.
If you suspect, or uncover proof, that you are a victim of identity theft, take immediate action. Begin with the steps below to restore your credit and recover from this setback:
1. Review your credit report. Federal law entitles you to one free credit report each year. Obtain yours through the Annual Credit Report Request Service, online at www.annualcreditreport.com or by phone at 877-322-8228. Review the accuracy of your information, keeping an eye out for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
2. Report the crime. Start by filing a report with your local police. Make sure to keep a copy of the police report, which should include the number of the report. The police report can help you deal with creditors who will need proof of the crime. You also need to file a complaint with the FTC. Call 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338) or access the FTC’s identity theft affidavit online. An individual case of identity theft often can be tied to nationwide criminal rings, so your FTC report can help law enforcement officials across the country track down and stop identity thieves.
3. Freeze fraudulent accounts. Close any account that you know or believe has been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Send written notification to credit card companies and banks, using certified mail to document delivery. Keep a file of your correspondence and notes from phone calls. Utilize the FTC’s identity theft affidavit, which permits identity theft victims to report information to many companies using just one form.
4. Request fraud alerts. Fraud alerts notify potential creditors that you have been a victim of identity theft and ask the creditors to verify with you directly before extending any credit in your name. These alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts using your information. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three consumer reporting companies—Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion—to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
5. Consider a security freeze. A security freeze is more drastic than a fraud alert, as it actually prohibits anyone from accessing your credit history. The freeze makes it much more difficult for crooks and scam artists to open new accounts in your name. You can put a freeze on your credit files by contacting Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Just be sure to remove the freeze before applying to or opening anything that requires a credit check.
6. Keep detailed records. Write down details of all your conversations with officials, agencies, banks, credit card companies, and other people you talk with about the fraud. Also, keep copies of all written, emailed, or typed correspondence.
Be vigilant in documenting and following up with creditors, banks, and other companies where you have discovered fraudulent accounts. The effort you put in will help aid your financial recovery.