The Must-Follow List if Your Identity Has Been Stolen

By Tara Swords

When someone steals your identity, the consequences can be devastating. Your credit can be ruined and you can find yourself being targeted by debt collectors for bills that you didn’t rack up. That’s why it’s important to monitor your credit and take immediate action the moment you realize what has happened. Here are the first five steps -- and links to the next steps to take.

1. Report it.
Call the companies where you know the fraud occurred. Ask for the fraud department, and explain that someone stole your identity and used it to open an account or accrue charges with their organization. They will either close or freeze your account, which means that nobody else can use it for any reason. If nothing else, that will stop the thief from doing more damage.

2. Put a fraud alert on your credit reports.
There are three credit bureaus that track your credit history -- Experian, TransUnion and Equifax -- and you’ll need to notify only one of them. That bureau is required by law to contact the other two on your behalf. When you call, ask them to place a fraud alert on your report. It’s free, and it will make it harder for someone to open any new accounts in your name.

You should also request a copy of your credit report. Go to annualcreditreport.com for your annual free copy.

3. File a report with the FTC.
Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission by filling out the online form.

4. Report it to the police.
Take your FTC affidavit to your local police department, along with any other evidence you have, like bank statements. You’ll then file a report and be sure to not leave without a copy of it.

5. Visit IdentityTheft.gov for next steps.
At IdentityTheft.gov, you’ll find detailed information about how to handle various situations. For example, if someone has stolen government benefits, you’ll follow some different steps than if someone has filed bankruptcy in your name or taken out student loans in your name.

Having your identity stolen is a nightmare that can take months or years to resolve. But if you follow the steps set forth by the FTC, you’ll be on your way back to a clean credit history.

Tara Swords  is a Boston-based journalist who regularly writes about business and technology.


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