Identity theft is frustrating, shocking and scary — and it can happen to anyone. But that doesn’t mean you have to sit back and do nothing. You can exercise the rights you have under the Fair Credit Reporting Act and be proactive in preventing identity thieves from continuing to use or profit from your stolen identity. Here’s what to do if your identity is stolen, plus some tips to prevent identity theft.
Talk to Your Bank
The first thing you should do if your identity is stolen is call the banks or businesses where you hold accounts that have fraudulent charges to report the incident. Let them know which charges aren’t yours, and work with them to get those charges reversed. Ask the companies to either close or freeze your accounts to keep the scammers from making additional fraudulent charges.
Change Your Sensitive Info
Next, change your personal information, including passwords, security questions/answers and PINs associated with the accounts where fraud has occurred. If you use the same information with other unaffected accounts, make changes there, too. This will help prevent the same thieves from striking again. Make sure to come up with strong passwords that are not duplicated across accounts.
Get an Identity Theft Recovery Plan
Visit IdentityTheft.gov to report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and to get an identity theft recovery plan tailored to your specific situation. Your recovery plan will detail what steps you need to take based on the type of identity theft, like how to handle fraud on your utility accounts, an apartment rented in your name or if your child’s identity has been stolen. This report with the FTC also helps you prove to the businesses where you have affected accounts that you’re a victim, and it guarantees you certain rights.
Investigate Your Credit Report
If your identity has been stolen, get in touch with one or all of the three credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion or Equifax) to initiate an initial fraud alert and a credit freeze, if needed. An initial fraud alert is free and requires a business to verify your identity before it issues credit. The initial fraud alert stays on your credit report for a minimum of 90 days and can be renewed after 90 days. A freeze on your credit restricts access to your credit report, which makes it difficult for thieves to open new accounts with your personal information.
If you believe your identity has been stolen, you also need to review your credit report. You can get a credit report from each of the three bureaus. Once you have your report, check it thoroughly and dispute any accounts you didn’t open or any erroneous information. Your recovery plan will walk you through these steps.
Contact Debt Collectors
If debt collectors are calling you or sending notices to you in the mail, reach out within 30 days of receipt and report the fraud. (These sample letters are a helpful resource.) Include a copy of your identity theft report with your letter.
File a Police Report
Collect the information you have on your identity theft, including a copy of your FTC identity theft report. Bring along a government-issued photo ID; proof of your address, which could be a mortgage statement, rental agreement or utilities bill; and any other evidence of the theft, such as bills or IRS notices. Tell your local police department that your identity has been stolen and you need to file a report. Ask for a copy of the police report, as it can provide you with valuable documentation when you’re reporting fraudulent activity on accounts to different parties.
Report the Theft to Your Medical Providers
Let your health insurance company and medical care providers know that your identity has been stolen. Identity thieves with your personal information could seek out medical services such as visiting a doctor’s office, having procedures done or procuring prescription drugs with your insurance information.
Alert Issuers of Identification Documents
Alert your state’s DMV or licensing agency, requesting that they flag your license number so law enforcement has it on hand. That’s a good preventive measure to take in case identity thieves pretend to be you by using your driver’s license or state ID number, whether to avoid charges and fines at routine traffic stops or to create a false license. With a fake license, identity thieves could use your ID to cash personal checks or obtain credit.
Contact the U.S. State Department if you think someone has gotten a passport in your name. Similarly, contact the Social Security Administration if you suspect someone has used your Social Security number to access benefits. Likewise, if you believe identity thieves are rerouting your mail to a different address, contact your local postal inspector to confirm all mail is being sent to your true address.
Prevent Identity Theft
The best way to protect yourself from identity theft is to take steps to prevent it before it happens. Going forward, keep a close eye on your accounts. Look for charges or withdrawals you didn’t make, unusual balances or anything else that seems amiss. Checking your credit report monthly will help you find out if someone is opening new accounts with your information. Likewise, bills or letters you weren’t expecting are signs someone might be using your personal information.
If an account has been compromised, thieves may have changed the address or contact on the account. If you believe you should have received correspondence from a business or service provider and didn’t, contact the company and verify the information on file.
Stay Ahead of Thieves
Because identity theft is a rising concern throughout the country, it’s important to take steps to protect yourself. For added protection and to reduce your risk of identity theft, ask your local Farm Bureau agent about adding Identity Services and Fraud Expense Coverage to your Farm Bureau insurance policy. With this coverage, experienced fraud specialists will work on your behalf to help resolve the situation if your identity gets stolen.