Recently, a news story was released revealing that sensitive information about numerous celebrities, including Michelle Obama, Beyonce, and Hillary Clinton, was posted on a public website. The website posted addresses, financial data, social security numbers, and even credit card numbers of the celebrities. While the accuracy of the information is still under investigation, this story is a good example of how anyone can become a victim of identity theft.
In my previous post “Tips to Help Protect Yourself from Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft,” I discussed steps that individuals can take to reduce their risks of having their identities stolen. However, even with these precautions in place, it is still possible to become a victim of identity theft. Realizing that your identity has been stolen can be a scary time, it can be hard to think straight, let alone know what you need to do to prevent further damage. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recommends that if you think your identity has been stolen you should take three main steps:
1) Place an Initial Fraud Alert
2) Order Your Credit Reports
3) Create an Identity Theft Report
1. Place an Initial Fraud Alert:
What: An initial fraud alert is a warning that you can place on your credit report that lets potential creditors know that you may be a victim of identity theft and requires that the creditors take extra steps in verifying your identity before issuing credit. It is FREE and lasts for 90 days.
Why: Placing an initial fraud alert makes it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name, increase the credit limit on an existing account, or obtain a new card on an existing account.
How: Contact one of the credit reporting companies (see contact information below), tell them that you are a victim of identity theft, and ask for a fraud alert on your credit file. Make sure to confirm that they are going to contact the other two credit reporting companies!
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
Additional Note: There are two other types of “special” fraud alerts:
- Extended Fraud Alert: If you are a victim of identity theft and have a valid police report/identity theft report (discussed later in this post) you can get an extended fraud alert that lasts for 7 years (as opposed to the traditional 90 day period)
- Active Duty Alert: This is available to persons on active military duty and is similar to the initial 90 day alert, except that it lasts 12 months and your name is removed from prescreened offers of credit or insurance for 2 years.
2. Order Your Credit Reports
- Go to annualcreditreport.com (ONLY this websiteà not others such as freecreditreport.com which is not actually free)
- Get your free credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting agencies.
3. Create an Identity Theft Report
What: Identity Theft Affidavit+ Police Report= Identity Theft Report
An identity theft report is an official, valid law enforcement report that alleges the consumer’s identity theft. This report helps you invoke your rights under the Fair Credit Reporting Act. Without it you may be able to assert some, but not all, of your rights.
- Get fraudulent information removed from your credit report.
- Stop companies from collecting debts that were caused by identity theft.
- Help you get more information about accounts opened or misused by identity theft.
- Submit a complaint about the theft to the FTC (Identity Theft Affidavit). To do this visit: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0277-create-identity-theft-report
- File a police report, make a copy of the police report, and attach the identity theft affidavit. This is your identity theft report!
Identity theft is currently one of the fastest growing crimes, and while there are many things we can do to reduce our risks of becoming victims of identity theft, sometimes it still happens (even to the President’s wife!). While having your identity stolen can be overwhelming and stressful, it is important that you take these 3 initial steps as soon as possible to minimize further damage and start getting your life back together!
** Note: my colleague Brittany McNamara wrote a post on what to do if you wallet is stolen (Have You Ever Lost Your Wallet? What To Do When It Happens To You). While there may be some overlap with identity theft, there are different steps you want to take for each. If your wallet has been stolen AND you believe you may be a victim of identity theft, you would want to go through both processes.