It’s a uniquely modern horror. You apply for a car loan or a new credit card and are denied, but you know that your credit score is excellent. It doesn’t take long to find out what happened: your identity has been stolen and someone else has been living large on your good name. So how exactly do you recover from this? The following are the first steps you must take to resolve the situation. Remember, acting quickly will make a big difference.
Before you do anything else, put a fraud alert on your credit. There are three credit bureaus, Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. If you notify one of these bureaus that you may be a victim of identity theft, it is required to contact the other two for you. However, to be on the safe side, go ahead and make the call to all three. Ask to speak to the fraud department. They will place an alert on your file that requires creditors to call you before extending credit. Fraud alerts can be renewed after the 90-day expiration, although there are extended fraud alerts of seven years for individuals who know for certain that they have had their identities stolen.
Get copies of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus. Once you have put a fraud alert on your account, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report, which you will want to look over with a fine-toothed comb. This will tell you exactly what the thief has done in your name. Contact both the credit bureaus and the creditors in writing to notify them that you did not make these charges and that you want them to be removed from your report.
You can also get your free credit reports from AnnualCreditReport.com.
Contact the police. This step is crucial as it makes it clear to the creditors that you are taking the theft seriously. However, it can be complex to get the overworked police — even the fraud unit — to make a report, so be prepared to be persistent.
Complete the identity theft affidavit that the Federal Trade Commission has developed. This document summarizes the theft and gives you something concrete to send to creditors and businesses outlining what has happened.
Notify the creditors that you want the fraudulent accounts closed. You will start by calling each and every creditor the thief used and asking for the accounts to be closed. You will then need to follow up with a letter, along with the police report and the FTC affidavit. You will also want to contact all of your legitimate account-holders to change account numbers, passwords and PINs.
If a month has passed since you made all of these contacts and someone is still opening fraudulent accounts, you may need to get a credit freeze. A freeze keeps creditors from being able to see your report, which means that they will not issue any credit in your name. This is an extreme measure, as it also keeps you from getting any legitimate credit, but it will stop the thief. Victims of identity theft can request a credit freeze for free.
Unfortunately, if you have been the victim of identity theft, you may end up having a long road ahead of you. But don’t let your fears and emotions keep you from acting. After taking the above steps, be sure to learn how to avoid identity theft in the future. You don’t want to be a victim twice!
Photo by B Rosen.
The articles are written by personal finance enthusiasts (not certified professionals) based on their personal experience. What works for them may or may not work for you, and you should always consult a financial advisor before making important financial decisions.
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