Identity Stolen? Let’s Get It Back…
Step by step, this will help you report identity theft, as well as prevent it from happening in the first place.
Identity theft used to be the bogeyman. If you were a victim, your world turned upside down. Now it’s the norm rather than the exception. Virtually everyone’s identity has been stolen in some fashion.
I’m a victim, even with my investigative background and my safeguards. Years ago, my wife’s and my identities were stolen to file false tax returns. To its credit, the IRS was extremely helpful, but now every year, we have to use dedicated, encrypted PINs (Personal Identification Numbers) to file our tax returns.
Since identity theft is everyone’s reality now, the agencies tasked to protect you have become more sophisticated and, in turn, have made it easier to help you recover. I’m about to tell you how, step-by-step.
Before I do, allow me to share one thing that will cut your risk of identity theft by more than half: USE A CREDIT CARD FOR ALL OF YOUR PURCHASES, BOTH IN PERSON AND ONLINE. Find a card that offers a low interest rate and a competitive points-earning program (cash or credit-back, airline miles, etc.) and use it for everything, provided you have the discipline to make the payments. Under federal law, you’re never liable for more than $50 of any disputed credit card charge — and most competitive card-issuers offer zero liability as a card feature. That means you’re not liable for ANY amount of a disputed charge. I recommend you shop those cards at CardRates.com.
Remember how I said these agencies are getting more sophisticated? That includes the credit card companies. They offer fraud alerts that can automatically stop questionable charges, then text or call you for your permission to allow or to block them. If it’s indeed a fraudulent charge, they’ll shut your card down and immediately issue you a new one with a new number, linked to the same account. It’s effortless. Credit cards — as your main vehicle for commerce and with a disciplined, budgeted spending approach — are your first line of defense against long-term identity theft.
Here are the steps to take after your identity is stolen:
- CONTACT THE FRAUD DEPARTMENTS OF EACH OF THE THREE CREDIT BUREAUS: TransUnion.com, Experian.com and Equifax.com. Have them put a fraud alert on your reports. A fraud alert requires any business running a credit check on you to get your permission before opening a new account. If someone or something tries to open an account without your permission, you’ll receive an email notification. Fraud alerts typically only last 90 days, but federal law has required those alerts to be FREE and last ONE YEAR since September 2018.
- PULL YOUR CREDIT REPORT FROM EACH OF THE CREDIT BUREAUS. You can do that securely and simultaneously from all three bureaus ONLY AT THIS SITE: AnnualCreditReport.com. By law, you’re entitled to one free credit report annually from all three bureaus — except now, the feds are allowing free WEEKLY credit reports through April 2022 due to the pandemic (more info in this #WiseAdvice blog). Scour your reports for any unusual or unauthorized accounts, address changes, name changes, whatever. The three reports should match.
- CONSIDER A CREDIT “FREEZE” FROM THE CREDIT BUREAUS. Just like fraud alerts, federal law has required that all three bureaus offer credit freezes for FREE since September 2018. A credit freeze locks down access to your credit. With your PIN or password, you’ll be able to freeze and unfreeze access to your credit reports. Any attempt to access or “ping” your credit report will require PIN or password-initiated permission. That means if you plan to apply for a mortgage, car loan or other credit line, you will have to remove the freeze before you apply. Federal law also provides for child credit freezes. Identity thieves often steal the Social Security numbers of children, opening lines of credit that aren’t detected until the child turns 18 and tries to apply for a loan or credit card. Parents are now able to freeze their children’s personal information until they are old enough to use it.
- CONTACT YOUR LENDERS, CREDITORS AND BANKS. Your credit card company, your mortgage lender, your auto loan, utilities, the bank that holds your checking account — call them all and alert them to the fraud or mistake. Have them check to make sure there isn’t any funny business with your accounts. Ask each creditor to assign a password to your account that must be used before any inquiries or changes can be made to your accounts.
- GET THE FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION (FTC) TO PREPARE AN IDENTITY THEFT REPORT FOR YOU. Go to IdentityTheft.gov. The FTC will help you create a identity theft report you can use with local authorities, including a personal recovery plan based on your specific circumstances. “After the FTC obtains your information, they will place it into a secure consumer fraud database which may be used by local law enforcement agencies in apprehending perpetrators of this crime,” said Kevin Snider, certified fraud examiner and founding attorney of #WiseChoice law firm Snider & Horner, PLLC.
- FILE A POLICE REPORT. Only do this if it does NOT involve your credit cards. As I explained earlier, your credit card-issuer should take care of you in the event of credit card fraud. File a police report when identity theft compromises your bank accounts, checking accounts, tax returns, investments, Social Security number, etc. If possible, file the report with the law enforcement agency in the area where the theft took place (i.e. someone wrote a check on your account to a department store in California). If that’s not possible, contact your local police department or sheriff’s office.
The FTC set up an excellent web page for all of the ways to prevent any kind of identity theft — personal, medical and tax. Link to it by clicking here.
In a case of identity theft, time and speed are of the essence. Credit card-issuers, government and law enforcement agencies are better prepared than ever to assist you.
And so am I.
Copyright 2022 Wise ChoicesTM. All rights reserved.
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