Identity theft is one of the top issues among U.S. consumers. The FTC received about 369,000 complaints for identity theft in 2012, which ranked highest among all categories.
Thieves can do a variety of things with your personal information, including your Social Security number. Whether it’s opening fraudulent accounts or a tax refund scheme, these cases of fraud take work to fix if they happen to you.
In many cases, the response to identity theft is similar, and the earlier you catch it, the better. Here’s what to do when someone uses your Social Security number or other personal information to open accounts or commit other types of fraud.
Place a fraud alert
If you suspect any type of identity theft, including if someone is using your Social Security number, a fraud alert is often the first step to halting unauthorized use of your information. A fraud alert will help prevent other accounts being opened using your identity.
Contact one of the three credit bureaus by phone or using online forms to file a fraud alert. The websites and phone numbers for each of them are:
- TransUnion – 1-800-680-7289 or place a fraud alert here.
- Experian – 1-888-397-3742 or place a fraud alert here.
- Equifax – 1-800-525-6285 or place a fraud alert here.
Note that you only need to place a fraud alert with one bureau, which will then notify the other two. Make sure to verify your request has been received by all three.
This initial fraud alert will be placed for 90 days and comes free of charge. You have the option to renew for another 90 days after this period expires.
You can also place an extended fraud alert for seven years or file a credit freeze, which will block virtually all access to your credit indefinitely.
The FTC recommends that you keep a record of all calls and letters sent or received to track your case as needed.
Order and review your credit reports
Once you’ve placed fraud alerts, you’re entitled to free copies of your credit report from all three agencies. This is regardless of whether you’ve used your free yearly credit report through AnnualCreditReport.com.
The FTC recommends requesting that only the last four digits of your Social Security number appear on your credit reports for additional security.
Check over everything on your credit report, looking closely for any fraudulent accounts you didn’t open. Be sure to verify other information like dates, addresses, employers listed, and charges as these can result from identity theft, too.
If anything looks out of place, contact the credit bureau with the incorrect information to have the errors removed or corrected.
Contact companies related to the identity theft
If a fraudulent account has been opened in your name, contact the companies and alert them to the fraud. Speak to customer service or a fraud department so they can begin working on the problem immediately.
Create an Identity Theft Report
The FTC recommends creating an “Identity Theft Report,” which is a combination of reporting your identity theft to the FTC and then to your local police department.
According to the FTC, this report will help you remove fradulent information from your credit report, stop collection of debt from identity theft, and allow you to place an extended fraud alert.
The steps to create an Identity Theft Report are:
- Report the theft to the FTC. This can be done online using their complaint form. After submitting this, you’ll be issued a theft report affidavit.
- Use your theft report affidavit to file a police report.
- Save both the police report and identity theft affidavit to complete your Identity Theft Report. Use them when fixing credit issues in instances where your personal information or Social Security number was used to open the fraudulent accounts.
Keep this report on file, as it’s important for the next steps as well.
Have information blocked from your credit report
Just disputing problems on your credit report might get information corrected. However, you don’t want that information to stay on the report or for other businesses to try to collect debts you don’t actually owe. This is solved with a request that companies block information from appearing on your credit report.
Companies are required to do this if you’re an identity theft victim. Send in your Identity Theft Report along with proof of your identity, a copy of your credit report, and details on the fraudulent accounts or charges related to your identity theft.
Once you’ve done this and your request is approved, the information can no longer be reported to credit bureaus. Verify that it’s been removed on your credit report.
Follow the same process for any business that’s trying to collect a debt from an account related to theft of your identity.
Monitor your credit report in the future
If you’ve already been a victim of identity theft, there’s a possibility it can happen again. Be on the lookout for fraudulent accounts in the future, and make checking your credit report a regular habit. If issues pop up again, you now know what to do.
For more information on repairing identity theft, visit the FTC website.
photo credit: Flickr