Identity theft is when someone wrongly obtains and uses personal information. It’s a growing problem in the United States and identity theft experts warn most Americans will fall victim to the crime during their lifetime. Here’s what to do if you think your personal information has been compromised:
1. Stay Calm
Panic is a normal reaction to having your identity stolen, but it’s important to keep your wits. According to Javelin Research, 14.4 million people had their identities stolen in 2018, so you’re not alone. Staying calm allows you to minimize the damage and get help.
2. Gather Resources
After discovering your personal information is compromised, you must act fast. Jot down details about what accounts have been compromised, so when talking to the authorities, you can answer their questions. Double check your banking and credit card accounts to see if they’ve been compromised. Locate the phone number of your financial institution.
3. Notify Your Credit Card Provider or Bank
You don’t want to be left paying bills for charges you didn’t make, so contact your creditor or bank as soon as possible. Your financial institution will help you remove fraudulent charges and close the compromised account. Going forward, sign up for automatic fraud alerts when opening a new account.
4. Contact a Credit Reporting Agency
To place fraud alerts or security freezes on your credit report, you need to contact one of the three major credit reporting agencies:
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
A 90-day fraud alert puts a red flag on your credit report and notifies lenders that they should take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. A security freeze prevents new creditors from accessing your credit report. If you choose this option, extra steps will be needed when applying for new credit. There’s no reason to contact all three credit reporting agencies; each is required to notify the other two for you.
5. File a Report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC’s mission is to protect American consumers from identity theft. They have a dedicated identity theft recovery website and will help you fill out an Identity Theft Report. An FTC representative will create an identity theft affidavit to assist you with disputing compromised accounts and fraudulent charges.
6. Call Your Local Police Department
An FTC representative will provide a letter for you to give to law enforcement authorities so they can expedite the identity theft report filing process. Remember to keep a copy of your report and the investigator’s contact information on file for future reference.
Falling victim to identity theft is traumatic. Fortunately, following these steps will get you the help you need.
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