In How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft, I talked about how you can protect yourself from becoming a victim of identity theft. But what if you have taken all of the steps and still fell victim? How do you recover and what steps should you take?
Time is Money
The key to minimizing the effects of identity theft is to act fast. By contacting the below agencies as soon as possible, they can begin to freeze your accounts and provide you with new account numbers. This will stop the thieves in their tracks. Be sure to contact:
- Your credit card company
- Your bank
- The three credit bureaus (TransUnion, Equifax, Experian)
- Local/state/federal law enforcement agencies
Credit Card Company
Credit card companies monitor your account all of the time. Many times, they will notice transactions that are not in line with your normal activity and notify you. I’ve had this happen to me a few times. They will call asking if I spent $X at ABC store. I confirm and go about my business. Along the same lines, if you are traveling, it is a good idea to call the credit card company to let them know this. I’ve known of people who were at dinner in England and had their card denied because the credit card company believed the attempted charge was fraudulent.
If you lose your card or have it stolen, the responsibility lies with you to report it missing. You have 30 days to inform the credit card company. If you do this, your liability will be greatly reduced. In most cases, you will owe $0 to $50 out of pocket, depending on the card. If you do not inform them in a timely manner however, you could be on the hook for the entire amount of fraudulent purchases.
Be sure to close your account and get new cards issued to you. You should also set up a password so that if the thief has your social security number, they cannot open new accounts because they do not know the password. If any new accounts are opened, you should request the application, including the signature page, to verify that the signature isn’t yours.
If your debit card is stolen, there are different laws to protect you, and different guidelines as well. You need to report the card missing within two days of realizing it is missing. If you do so, you will only be accountable for up to $50 of unauthorized charges.
If you fail to report the card missing within two days, you can be held accountable for up to $500 in unauthorized charges. And if you do not report an unauthorized transfer or withdrawal that is posted on your bank statement within 60 days, there is no limit to the loss you are responsible for. In other words, the bank won’t reverse those charges.
If your checkbook is lost or stolen, report it to the bank, close your account and open a new one. If you have any outstanding checks, you will need to place a stop payment on them and re-issue a check when your new account is opened.
You should contact one credit bureau. Once you report the alert to one of the bureaus, they are required by law to contact the other two:
Equifax: (888) 766-0008
Experian: (888) 397-3742
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
After they are aware of the issue, you need to place a fraud alert on your account. A fraud alert will force the company issuing credit to verify the identity of the person wanting credit. It will also allow you one free credit report and the alert stays on your credit report for 90 days.
You can also opt for an extended fraud alert. This requires that the person issuing credit must contact you by telephone at a number you provide. An extended fraud alert also allows you two free credit reports within 12 months and the alert stays on your report for seven years.
If you prefer, you can also place a freeze on your credit report. In order to do this, you have to contact all three bureaus. When frozen, no one, and I mean no one, will have access to your credit report unless you remove the freeze.
If you are a victim of identity theft, the freeze does not have a charge associated with it. But, if you are not a victim and want to freeze your report to be safe, there is a fee.
Reporting identity theft to the police does not guarantee that the person will be caught. But filing a report allows you to show the bank or credit card company proof that your identity has been compromised and will help in removing unauthorized transactions from your accounts.
As you know from my other post, I was a victim of identity theft. Luckily I caught it early and no major damage was done. But I was on heightened alert for a few months afterwards. I didn’t report the issue to law enforcement. I did close the bank account and opened up a new one. I also verified my virus protection was up to date and I scanned my entire laptop for any malicious programs. I also installed other virus protection on top of that.
I bought myself a shredder and still use it religiously to this day. I checked my credit reports regularly for the next year, and still review them on an annual basis.
While going through this process, you need to keep all of the records. This includes writing down the dates you called anyone, the time, the name of the person you spoke with and a summary of the conversation. Even after the case is closed, keep all of the paperwork, just in case. While many cases of identity theft do not come back to haunt you, if yours does, you will be grateful that you have all of the paperwork.
Do you have any suggestions for victims of identity theft?