The specter of identity theft worries many who are active on the Internet. Anyone engaging in eCommerce — including banking, shopping, or conducting any number of financial activities online — needs to be aware of the possibility of identity theft from their social security number, credit card numbers, and financial account passwords might be stolen by hackers.
Even if you take the proper steps to prevent this situation, by using unique passwords or never conducting financial transactions on an unsecured public wireless network, cyber criminals still might gain access to your valuable information. Look at the recent spate of incidents where hackers stole customer information from a variety of large health insurance providers. Armed with your social security number, a hacker may open up new credit card accounts in your name.
If you see unauthorized withdrawals from your bank account, strange charges on your credit cards, or confusing calls from debt collectors, your identity may have been compromised This article looks at what steps to take after discovering you are a victim of this form of cyber crime.
Contact the Credit Reporting Companies and get an Initial Fraud Alert
If you feel the theft of your identity happened, you first need to contact the three major credit reporting companies: Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax. Ask for an initial fraud alert from all three companies, which informs your various creditors that your identify may have been stolen. This alert lasts for 90 days and helps prevent thieves from changing the information on your credit card or applying for new credit.
Additionally, merchants are made aware of the issue, so they ask for additional identification to ensure any user of the card is its rightful owner. The initial fraud alert gives you some time to start dealing with the other necessary steps to recover from this incident.
Check your Credit Reports
If you are a victim of identity theft, the credit reporting companies are all required to give you a free copy of your credit report. This is an important next step. Closely peruse those reports and contact the creditor in question if anything seems out of order. The fact you already have an initial fraud alert in force should help when reversing any fraudulent charges.
Create an Identity Theft Report
Creating an identity theft report is a must at this point in your recovery. This gets the police and potentially the FBI involved as a form of cyber crime did happen. It also helps when you are trying to correct any issues on your credit report, or help protect you from creditors attempting to collect on charges you didn’t make.
To create this report, contact the FTC and inform them of the situation and detail all evidence of the incident found in your credit reports and from other banking and credit sources. This FTC complaint becomes an official affidavit. Use this affidavit when contacting your local law enforcement office to file a report of the crime.
The combination of the FTC affidavit and the subsequent police report becomes your identity theft report.
Fix your Credit Reports and Inform Creditors
With your identify theft report at the ready, you now need to take the necessary steps to fix your credit reports. In most cases, this involves contacting any creditors for the fraudulent charges on your credit reports. This can be a time-consuming and frustrating process.
It is vital to document every call you make and every letter you send. If you get a creditor to agree to do something, send a follow-up letter stating the call and get a mail receipt to ensure its delivery. If you are unable to accomplish everything before your initial fraud alert expires, get an extended alert which lasts for up to seven years.
Ask each creditor to send you letter once they’ve removed any fraudulent charges and closed any accounts opened by the cyber criminal. Use this information with the credit reporting companies to ensure the criminal activity is removed from your reports.
Hopefully, you’ll never have to deal with identity theft. If so, following these steps will ensure your credit eventually gets restored. Remember to stay vigilant and document all your activity!