If it seems like identity theft is getting worse, it’s because it is. ID theft has become a widespread plague over the past two decades. Recent data breaches at Target, Niemen Marcus, eBay, Home Depot and others have resulted in millions of compromised customer names, addresses and credit/debit card numbers. On top of those breaches, the FTC recently revealed that tax identity theft attempts were up more than 2,300 percent in 2014.
With ID theft more rampant than ever, it’s important to know what to do if your identity is stolen. If you think or know that you have been a victim of identity theft, you need to take the following steps immediately.
Place a Fraud Alert with Credit Reporting Agencies
Place a 90-day fraud alert on your credit report with the three major credit-reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion). You only need to contact one of the agencies to flag your account. Once you place an alert with one agency, they will note the others on your behalf.
A fraud alert also notifies lenders that your identity has been compromised and that they should take extra precautions to verify your identity before opening a line of credit.
You can also put a security freeze on your credit reports. This will prevent creditors you don’t currently have a relationship with from seeing your credit report. Since new creditors are unable to see your credit report, any new applications will be declined automatically. Be aware that if you have placed a security freeze on your credit report you will have to take a few extra steps if you wish to apply for a new line of credit.
Anytime you place a fraud alert on your credit report, you can request a free copy of your report from the three major reporting agencies.
Contact Financial Institutions
If you know that something has been stolen, contact the corresponding financial institution immediately. For instance, if your checkbook or debit card has been stolen, contact your bank. If your credit card has been stolen, contact the card issuer.
Contacting them will allow you to immediately cancel any cards or account numbers that have been stolen.
File a Report with the FTC
The next thing you need to do is file an identity theft affidavit and create an identity theft report with the FTC. The FTC isn’t typically going to investigate your claim themselves, but the combination of this report and a police report can help you:
- Remove fraudulent information from your credit report
- Stop debt collection that is a result of identity theft
- Place an extended fraud alert
- Gain information about any accounts that were fraudulently opened or misused
Report the Theft to Police
Your identity theft report isn’t complete until you contact local law enforcement and report the theft. Make sure that you get a copy of the report to take with you. Once you have your police report and identity theft affidavit, you have a complete identity theft report. This report makes it easier to work with credit reporting agencies and other companies where fraudulent accounts were opened in your name.
Keep Your Social Security Number Safe
As mentioned above, tax ID theft is on the rise. It’s important to contact the Social Security Administration if you believe your social security number has been stolen. Even if nothing is apparent right now, the thief may be planning to steal your tax returns or use your name and social security number to apply for jobs.
These are only a few of the first steps in what is likely to be a long and frustrating process. Recovering from identity theft isn’t easy, but taking the steps above is the best way to get started. If you’d like to learn more about how to prevent or deal with the aftermath of identity theft, you can find more information at the websites for the U.S. Department of Justice and the FTC.