It'll be okay. Take a deep breath, and read this.
by Julie Myhre for GalTime.com
If you were one of the 32,000 people that have their identity stolen each day, the first thing you need to do is not panic. Identity theft is a terrifying thing that impacted more than 12 million people in 2012, according to Javelin Strategy and Research. There are steps that you can take to stop the theft, recover your good name and prevent it from happening again in the future.
File a police report and file an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission: Once you realize that your identity has been stolen, you should immediately file a police report with your local police so they can begin an investigation. Previous identity theft victim Shira — who chose not to include her last name to protect herself from further issues with identity theft — said this was a crucial step in restoring her good name because the police were able to find out the details of the crime. “You must, must, must create a police report because then they follow through and they go back to where the original problem happened,” she said.
Besides filing a police report, you should also file an identity theft complaint with the FTC. The police investigation will help collect any information about the crime if it was committed locally or in-person. On the other hand, the FTC observes national trends in the crime as well as conducts investigations — of online and in-person identity theft — which can lead to prosecutions.
Alert banks and credit report agencies: After you reported the crime to the police and the FTC, the next step is to contact you bank — or banks if you have multiple accounts — to make sure your bank accounts or credit cards were not hacked. If any of your bank or credit accounts were used, then you should close them and re-open them with new account and credit card numbers. Melina Young, director of marketing for Verity Credit Union, said it’s important to let your financial institutions know so they can begin working as an advocate on your behalf.
“They have policies and procedures in place and deal with things like this every day,” Young said. “The earlier they hear about the situation and start working for you the better.” Young also said that it’s always better to err on the side of caution because most financial institutions have a limit on the number of days after the transaction was processed that they can treat it as identity theft.
On top of alerting all your banks, you should contact all three creditors — Equifax, Experian and TransUnion — to alert them that you’ve been a victim of identity theft. When you contact each of the creditors, you should request to put an extended fraud alert or a credit freeze on your credit report. An extended fraud alert puts a note on your report that lets creditor know that they need to take extra steps to verify your identity. This alert is only for victims of identity theft and lasts 7 years, according to the FTC. A credit freeze is the most dramatic option of the two because it completely locks down your credit. This freeze prevents any company, even your current creditors, from accessing it. In most states placing a credit freeze is free for victims of identity theft, however some states charge you to place the freeze, according to the FTC. The length of the credit freeze also varies from state-to-state. You should decide if an extended fraud alert or a credit freeze is best for you.
Alert any company that has your personal information: This is an important step that most people forget. Identity thieves try to get as much information about you as they can, so this means that they may try to get information from any place that you’re a customer of. That’s why it is important to contact your utilities, cable and Internet providers, libraries, insurance carriers and any other company or organization that has any of your personal information. Even if a company or organization only has your name and phone number, it is still important that you contact them and ask them to place a note on your account to let their staff know that they need to take extra steps to verify your identity before sharing personal information.
Follow-up with your banks, companies and the police: The final step that you can take to restore your good name is to follow-up with your banks, creditors and the police. This is an important step because you want to make sure that everything is done correctly, and double-checking or following-up can verify that it has been. One thing to remember is that you can’t fix identity theft overnight. It will take some time to sort it all out. Shira said that it took her more than two weeks to resolve her identity theft.
“It was more so that I really had to stay on top of it,” she said. “I had to go over my credit scores. I had to see if they used any of the credit cards. I had to change all my bank accounts and debit cards.”
One of the ways that you can keep track of all of the identity theft information is to keep a record of it. “Get everything in writing and keep it in a folder so you will always have it if you need it,” Young said.
Prevent identity theft from happening again in the future: There are a lot of different ways that you can help prevent identity theft from happening again. The most hands-on way is to sign up for an identity theft protection service. These services monitor your credit report, bank accounts, social security number, credit cards and other personal information and alert you of any possible identity theft or out-of-the-ordinary activity. These services also help alleviate the headache in the case that you are a victim of identity theft because they represent or assist you throughout the restoration process.
You can also take extra steps to help protect your identity, including shredding all documents containing any personal information, monitoring your credit report, checking your bank accounts and credit cards statements regularly to verify the purchases were made by you and, lastly, being aware of what you post online. Young said you shouldn’t be afraid of “crying wolf” because most institutions will be happy to help you out.
“Trust your instincts — if something doesn’t seem right or you aren’t sure about a transaction or something you saw on your credit report — ask about it,” she said. “It is better to catch it early and get help than to be in a huge hole that is harder to get out of.
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Julie is a NextAdvisor Content Manager who covers identity theft, VoIP, virtual phone, online college, photo cards, parental controls and people search. She has experience writing for the Silicon Valley Business Journal and as an editor of her college's daily paper. She is a graduate of San Jose State University, and currently resides in the San Francisco Bay Area.