How you respond to identity theft all depends on what type of identity theft you’re dealing with.
Did the thieves open up a slew of new credit card accounts in your name, or are there just some unauthorized charges on a single credit card? Was your email address exposed in a data breach, or did they get your Social Security Number too?
If despite all your precautions you become a victim of identity theft, it's vitally important that you have the right answers quickly, because the hours and days you can save immediately after you discover you've been a victim could translate into dollars and heartache saved down the road.
It's also very important that you remain calm so that you can think straight. One of the good things to come out of the focus of the media on identity theft is that most organizations understand what you're going through and should be very sympathetic.
Check Your Credit Reports And Place A Fraud Alert Or Freeze
Most thieves will go after your credit, and that will eventually show up on your credit reports. However, only new credit applications will show up on your credit reports. If the thieves compromise your existing accounts, that’s only likely to appear on your statements.
Notify any of the three main credit reporting agencies - Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion, that you suspect you have been a victim of identity theft, and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit file.
This should help prevent a thief from applying for new credit in your name.
The three main credit reporting agencies are aware of the problem of identity theft and usually act quickly to such requests. The fraud alert can last up to 90 days but can be extended by request.
A more drastic but also more effective option, especially if you’re certain thieves have your Social Security Number, is to place a freeze on all three credit reports.
Consider Completing An Identity Theft Affidavit
You may need to complete an identity theft affidavit form. This form can be used to halt any hasty action by creditors and debt collectors, and can be downloaded from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) web site at http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/
The affidavit has two parts: Part 1 asks for information about you and the thefts. Part 2 asks for information about each specific fraudulent account in question.
You'll need this form when working with creditors and others who may need evidence that you are the victim and not simply trying to avoid paying your debts.
You may be asked to send a copy of the affidavit to each affected creditor, along with any information about the accounts fraudulently opened in your name, as well as a copy of the police report.
And be sure to always send an ID theft affidavit by certified mail and request a return receipt.
File A Police Report
You should also consider filing a report with your local police department, but only if you’re certain you need to. It’s increasingly common that businesses won’t ask for a police report in order to reverse any fraud.
If you have to file, you should file a report with the police department in the city where you live or work, but not where you traveled to, or where you think the crime was committed.
And make sure you keep a copy of the completed police report and a name and number to contact.
Contact Your Bank and Credit Card Companies
Contact all affected bank and credit card companies and, if necessary, close any affected accounts. If checks have been misused, place a stop order on any outstanding checks that you're not sure about.
Contact any creditors, such as stores or utility companies, with whom your name has been used fraudulently. You should explain the circumstances, offer to provide a copy of the ID theft affidavit, and request copies of any documentation such as loan applications and transaction records.
If theft from a bank account is involved, ideally you should close that checking account immediately and open a new one, as well as cancel your ATM and credit cards and request new ones. And make sure you always create a new (and strong) password for any new accounts.
Keep a Record
Keep copies of all fraudulent transactions and of all correspondence with banks and creditors concerning these transactions. And be sure to keep copies of receipts for any costs you incur in order to clear your name.
Contact the Postal Inspectors
If mail has been stolen or a mailing address has been fraudulently used by an identity thief, you should report it to the postal inspectors. You can find the contact information for your nearest office on the USPS web site at www.usps.gov.
Contact the IRS
If you suspect that your Social Security number has been used to commit tax identity theft, like a thief filing a tax return in your name, you should contact the IRS immediately. They can provide you with a unique PIN that will prevent any future attempts.