Someone may have stolen your credit card or Social Security number and used it to obtain credit, destroying your credit history in the process. You may not even know you are a victim of identity theft until you try to get new credit or apply for a loan and are unexpectedly rejected. Identity theft is often discovered many months after the crime has occurred.
Prevention is one of the most effective ways to avoid becoming a victim. Below are some tips on how to avoid identity theft:
- Place a “security freeze” on your credit history. A security freeze prevents your credit history from being shared with potential creditors. If you credit files are frozen, a thief will probably not be able to get credit in your name. A security freeze generally cost $10 to place with each credit bureau, for a total of $30.
- Do not carry your Social Security card with you. Keep it in a safe place at home or in a safety deposit box.
- Do not attach or write a personal identification number (PIN) or Social Security number on any card that you carry with you or anything you are going to throw away (such as an invoice or receipt).
- Shred any document that contains your credit card or Social Security number before throwing it away.
- Alert your credit card lender if you do not receive your statements. Someone may be stealing your mail.
- Frequently check your credit report online at www.annualcreditreport.com to look for warning signs of suspicious activity.
What to Do If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, the first four steps you should take if you believe you are the victim of identify theft are:
1. Contact the fraud department of a major credit bureau to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
As soon as you make this initial report to a credit bureau and the bureau confirms your report, the other major credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts on your report as well. You should then automatically receive free copies of all three of your credit reports.
The initial fraud alert lasts only 90 days. In order to get an extended alert, you will have to provide additional information, including an identity theft report. This is a copy of an official report filed with an appropriate federal, state, or local law enforcement agency.
2. Contact your creditors to find out about any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
This includes credit card companies, phone companies, utilities, and others with whom you do business. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department and follow up with a letter. You should immediately close any accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new PINS.
3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
You will need this report in order to get an extended fraud alert in your credit file and to take advantage of some of the other identity theft protections. Unfortunately, some police departments will make it very difficult for you to file a report. If you have trouble with a police department, you should keep trying and be persistent. Be sure to give them as much documentation as possible to prove your case. If you can’t get anywhere with the local police, try the state police, or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service if the mail was involved.
4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC has a special Identity Theft Hotline (1-877-IDTHEFT), or you can file a complaint on-line at www.consumer.gov/idtheft.