Identity theft is a scary thought. If stolen, your personal information can be used to make charges on your accounts or open fraudulent accounts in your name. Fortunately, there are a number of things you can do to recover from identity theft before too much damage is done.
If you suspect you’re the victim of identity theft, it’s important to take action as soon as you discover the incident.
The Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, runs the nation’s central clearinghouse for reporting and managing identity theft. The FTC details the following four steps to take if you are a victim of identity theft:
1. Call one of the three credit reporting agencies to have them issue a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to call one of the agencies; the fraud alert will be issued to all three versions of your report. The three credit reporting agencies are as follows:
- Equifax: 800-525-6285 or www.equifax.com
Experian: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or www.experian.com
TransUnion: 800-680-7289 or www.transunion.com
You’re also entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies when you place a fraud alert. It’s important to review each credit report carefully for any accounts, inquiries, or debts that look unusual.
2. Close any account you think has been accessed or opened by identity thieves.
3. Report the theft to the FTC. Call 877-ID THEFT (438-4338) or fill out the online complaint form at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.
4. File a report with the local police.
These steps, including filing the police report, will help you to start clearing up any fraudulent activity by identity thieves. You’ll probably need to provide copies of the online complaint form to the credit reporting agencies, credit-card agencies and other companies affected by the fraud to prove you’ve been a victim and permanently clear the fraudulent activity. Police will often incorporate the report you file with the FTC into their report.
If other documents like your driver’s license or passport are stolen by identity thieves, contact the issuing agency to get instructions on canceling the document and getting a new one. You should ask the agency to flag your file so the thieves can’t get a new document in your name.
Go to the FTC’s identity theft site for more information on identity theft, including helpful forms and cover letters.