The glory days of robbing banks and trains have passed. These days, thieves are stealing identities to get what they want. If you find out that someone is using your identity to open lines of credit or take money from your bank account, what should you do?
To minimize your losses, act fast. Contact, in this order:
- Your credit card companies
- Your bank
- The three major credit bureaus
- Local, state, or federal law enforcement authorities
Credit card companies are getting better at detecting fraud; in many cases, if they spot activity outside the mainstream of your normal card usage, they’ll call you to confirm that you made the charges. But the responsibility to notify them of lost or stolen cards is still yours. If an identity thief opens new accounts in your name, you’ll need to prove it wasn’t you who opened them. Ask the creditors for copies of application forms or other transaction records to verify that the signature on them isn’t yours.
If your debit (ATM) card is lost or stolen, you won’t be held responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals if you report the loss before it’s used. Otherwise, the extent of your liability depends on how quickly you report the loss. Always report a lost debit card as soon as you realize it is missing.
If your checkbook is lost or stolen, stop payment on any outstanding checks, then close the account and open a new one. Dispute any fraudulent checks accepted by merchants in order to prevent collection activity against you.
If your credit cards have been lost or stolen, call the fraud number of any one of the three national credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You need to contact only one of the three; the one you call is required to contact the other two.
Next, place a fraud alert on your credit report. If your credit cards have been lost or stolen, and you think you may be victimized by identity theft, you may place an initial fraud alert on your report. If you become a victim of identity theft, you may place an extended fraud alert on your credit report once you file a report with a law enforcement agency.
If you discover fraudulent transactions on your credit reports, contest them through the credit bureaus. Do so in writing, and provide a copy of the identity theft report you file. You should also contest the fraudulent transaction in the same fashion with the merchant, bank, or creditor who reported the information to the credit bureau. Both the credit bureaus and those who provide information to them are responsible for correcting fraudulent information on your credit report, and for taking pains to assure that it doesn’t resurface there.
While the police may not catch the person who stole your identity, you should file a report about the theft with a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency. Once you’ve filed the report, get a copy of it; you’ll need it in order to file an extended fraud alert with the credit bureaus. You may also need to provide it to banks or creditors before they’ll forgive any unauthorized transactions.
When you file the report, give the law enforcement officer as much information about the crime as possible: the date and location of the loss or theft, information about any existing accounts that have been compromised, and/or information about any new credit accounts that have been opened fraudulently. Write down the name and contact information of the investigator who took your report, and give it to creditors, banks, or credit bureaus that may need to verify your case.
Once resolved, most instances of identity theft stay resolved. But stay alert: Monitor your credit reports regularly, check your monthly statements for any unauthorized activity, and be on the lookout for other signs (such as missing mail and debt collection activity) that someone is pretending to be you.
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