Your credit card company calls to question certain charges. Your debit card is denied due to lack of funds. You find suspicious activity at online stores you frequent. Any of these will make your blood run cold. Identity theft is a very real and growing crime that is affecting millions of good, hard-working folks. If it happens to you, you need to take certain steps to begin the recovery process and lessen the damage.
Call one of the three credit reporting companies (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) and report that your identity has been stolen. Ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit file. You only need to call one of them. They must report to the other two, but you should confirm that they will do this and follow through. This is a free service. You will be asked to prove your identity. The initial fraud alert is good for 90 days. At that time, if things have not cleared up, you may ask for another 90 days.
Ask for a credit report
Ask the credit reporting company to send you a copy of your credit report. Monitor your progress using this. Ask them to only put the last four digits of your Social Security number on the report.
Create an identity theft report
This consists of a police report and an identity theft affidavit. The identity theft affidavit is a detailed report of all the information you have concerning the theft. If you lost your wallet, suspect someone used your computer, or any other information you have. Include what was taken, what accounts may have been affected and all other important data you may have. This should be taken when you make your police report. Together, the two of them make up your identity theft report.
Once you have taken these immediate steps, you must create an organized system to monitor your progress.
Monitoring the process
You will be making a lot of phone calls. Start a log and write down each place you called, who you spoke to, what the reps told you, and the date and time you spoke with them. Highlight actions they advise you to take so you will know what to remember.
Have as much information as you can ready for when you make the phone calls. Also have a list of questions prepared to ask.
Send any correspondence certified with return receipt requested. This will also give you a log of steps you've taken. This can be a confusing time. Here are sample letters and forms to help you in your process. Keep a log of all letters you've sent and the date you sent them. This can be done on a calendar.
In addition to the phone log and the postal receipts and log, make a copy of all correspondence you send out. Also make copies of your ID cards for verification in the process. You will need to show them that you are who you say you are.
It is important to realize the expediency of the process. Things must be done quickly. Make sure to follow-up before deadlines come. The FTC suggests that you make a timeline (or use a calendar) to keep track of all important compliance dates — the date by which you are supposed to act; when you are supposed to hear from them; when each document has to be sent.
Contact each business that has had fraudulent charges. Let them know that you have filed a report with the FTC and ask them if they will accept that report or if they have their own forms. Follow through.
Changes to make
You will need to have new cards issued, change passwords and possibly phone numbers, and get new account numbers at the bank. Do this with every account that has been compromised.
This is a scary time, but the more organized and calm you are, the better you will be able to take immediate action to stop the crime and begin the recovery process. Continue monitoring until each account is back to normal.
This is an important lesson for children. Believe it or not, children are used for identity theft, as well. Educate them on how to be careful when using debit cards, how to keep their own information safe, and, especially, how to stay safe on the computer. Let them know that they are to never give personal information (phone numbers, addresses, email addresses and the like) to anyone online without your express consent. Share the process with them so that they see the gravity of the situation and will learn to be cautious.