Identity theft is way too common. Knowing what to do after identity theft is critical. With the number of places that your information is stored online, identity thieves don’t even have to leave their couch to steal your identity. Add in the number of papers you throw away with your information, and the amount of mail that comes with everything an identity thief needs, and it is a wonder your identity hasn’t been stolen before. Unfortunately, the financial companies involved are big businesses and they don’t want any laws getting in the way of them selling new credit, products, and services. So, when it comes to protecting yourself after identity theft, you are on your own.
Steps To Take After Identity Theft
First, understand that you are now involved in what may be a long battle between you and identity thieves. Even if you shut down the first wave of thieves, stolen identities are sold, reuse, resold, and reused online and around the world. Basically, these steps to take after identity theft should be considered just the first steps to take after identity theft.
- Freeze Your Credit: – There are a million ways criminals can use your stolen identity to get cash or merchandise. The easiest ones all involve opening new credit in your name. Freezing your credit stops anyone from accessing your credit report. Without a credit report, no credit score can be generated. Freezing your credit may just stop a thief opening a new instant credit line at Best Buy, Target, or anywhere else. The best part is that you can take this step quickly, and immediately. You don’t need any proof or documentation. In fact, you don’t have to have your identity stolen. The worst part is that you must go directly to all three credit unions to freeze your credit. There is no way to do all three at once. Anyone who says differently is selling something (or, ironically, trying to steal your identity.). A credit freeze is free and mandatory by federal law. If you even suspect that your identity has been compromised, freeze your credit. You can always unfreeze it later if you need to.
- File a Police Report: You aren’t liable for fraudulent charges. That is good news for you, but bad news for whoever get scammed by the stolen identity. Big companies like Visa and MasterCard, and the major banks, all see identity theft as just the cost of doing business. For smaller businesses, what was a big sale turns into a big loss. They will likely demand proof. Your proof is the police report. It’s a crime to file a false police report, so if you filed one, then you have to be legit, (or willing to commit a stupid crime).
- File an Identity Theft Report with the FTC: Go to IdentityTheft.gov — that’s dot-gov, not dot-com — and report an identity theft. The FTC can’t do anything, but they do collect data that the FBI, Secret Service, local police, and prosecutors can us. The other thing they will do for you is give you access to a bunch of legal-sounding letters to use when you report your identity theft. These letters might get more of a result than ones you write yourself.
- Contact Your Credit Card Companies: Check with your credit card companies to see if any new credit has been opened in your name. Also check and see if your address or phone number was recently changed. Thieves will often change your contact information so that you don’t get evidence of identity theft in the mail or with a phone call.
- Contact Your Banks and Mortgage Company: Again, check and see if there are any new accounts in your name and make sure no one has changed your contact information.
- Contact Any Company Where You Know or Suspect Fraud Occurred: They won’t be happy, but it isn’t your fault. Insist that any accounts are closed and deleted, not just cancelled. Watch your credit report and ensure that they do not put any negative information on your credit report.
- Correct Your Credit Reports: Review your credit reports and see if there is any false information, including accounts opened fraudulently, follow the procedures to correct the information. Do not neglect phony addresses or phone numbers. Get them removed as well.
- Contact Your Insurance Company: Identity theft insurance usually isn’t worth it by itself, but you may have coverage via either your homeowner’s insurance, or as a benefit of one or more of your credit cards. See what your benefits are and file a claim if necessary.
- Monitor Your Credit: If you get a free credit score from Credit Karma or Credit Sesame, or myFICO, or whatever, you typically also get access to free credit monitoring. It’s nothing fancy, just an email when something changes on your credit report, but that is all you need. Any time you see a new account, new address, new phone number, or anything else, verify it, or shut it down immediately. Hopefully, the crooks with your information will decide your identity isn’t worth having because there are others that are so much easier.
Other Steps To Take After Identity Theft
Sometimes identity thieves don’t just open new accounts. Sometimes, they file fraudulent unemployment claims, benefit claims, or even phony tax returns where they claim a huge refund. Contact the appropriate agency immediately to avoid any legal trouble for yourself.
Legal Problems with Identity Theft
If someone uses your identity while committing a crime, you will need to get those criminal charges removed from your record. This can be time consuming, but is absolutely worth it.