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- In an instance of identity theft, contact the credit bureaus, the FTC, and any companies involved.
- Place an extended fraud alert and a credit freeze on your credit reports.
- For additional support, consider enrolling in an identity theft protection service.
You may have done everything you can to reduce the risk of identity theft, but sometimes your data security is out of your control. Identity theft can happen because of something as complicated as a data breach or as simple as losing your wallet. Your safety can even come down to where you live, as some states are more vulnerable to identity theft than others.
While you can’t completely insulate yourself or your identity from theft, you can ensure that you quickly catch an instance of identity theft. You can monitor your credit by routinely requesting free credit reports or signing up for a credit monitoring service.
The best identity theft services offer identity recovery specialists who will walk you through the identity recovery process. However, if you’re on your own, here are the first few steps you need to take to report identity theft.
1. Know where the fraud occurred? Call that company
Banks and credit card companies often have fraud departments. Tell them that someone stole your identity, and the company can help you close or freeze accounts. Once your accounts are frozen, no one can add charges without your permission. Then, start changing passwords and PIN numbers on your accounts.
The sooner you can report the fraud, the better. You’re generally not liable for any fraudulent accounts opened in your name. However, if your credit card or debit card is being used by someone else, you may be on the hook. Your liability for fraudulent activity on a credit card is limited to $50 if you report the fraud within 60 days of the card company showing you the fraudulent charges. However, you have just two days to report missing debit cards to limit your liability.
2. Report identity theft to the FTC online
Go to the Federal Trade Commission’s fraud reporting page to report identity theft. While you can also report the theft over the phone at 877-438-4338, you receive an identity theft report when you file online. This document is crucial when you attempt to recover your identity.
You’ll need your identity theft report when you ask the credit bureaus to fix your credit report, stop debt collectors from reporting fraudulent accounts, and remove fraudulent information from your account. You’ll also need this document to place an extended fraud alert on your credit, which we will expand on later.
With your identity theft report, it’s time to contact the three credit bureaus — Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion — to report the fraud. You only need to contact one of the three bureaus, and they’ll alert the other two. They’ll send you a letter to confirm your report.
Equifax — Call 800-525-6285 or add a fraud alert through your online Equifax account
Experian — Call 888‑397‑3742 or add a fraud alert through Experian’s Fraud Alert Hub
TransUnion — Add a fraud alert by calling 800-680-7289 or through TransUnion’s online account
You can place a 90-day initial fraud alert on your credit reports, which compels any creditors reviewing your credit reports to verify your identity before opening an account in your name. You’ll also receive free credit reports when you place this fraud alert.
You’ll want to continue monitoring your credit through the free annual credit reports you get from each credit bureau. You need to request them through AnnualCreditReport.com. It’s best to ration these three reports so you’re viewing one every four months.
4. Take steps to prevent future identity theft
Once you become the victim of identity theft, you are far more likely to be targeted in a future attack. According to the Identity Theft Resource Center, 29% of identity theft victims are targeted again.
The credit bureaus offer two free features that help protect your identity: credit freezes and fraud alerts.
Anyone can place an initial fraud alert on their credit reports, which lasts one year before you have to renew them. However, with your identity theft report, you can place an extended fraud alert on your credit report. This also gives you two free credit reports from each credit bureau in a 12-month period.
You can place a credit freeze anytime, even without having your identity stolen. However, it is particularly useful for victims of identity theft. A credit freeze prevents most third parties from viewing your credit report for any purpose, effectively preventing any bad actors from taking out a line of credit in your name. Unlike a fraud alert, you must place a credit freeze with each bureau individually.
Equifax credit freeze: You can easily freeze your credit with Equifax on its website or via an automated phone line: 800-685-1111 (800-349-9960 for New York residents). If you’d rather talk to a human, its customer care number is 888-298-0045. You can also freeze your credit by mail using their Fraud Request Alert Form.
Experian credit freeze: To freeze your credit at Experian, you can visit Experian’s online Freeze Center. You can also call 888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742). You can also send a written request to Experian Security Freeze, PO Box 9554, Allen, Texas 75013.
TransUnion credit freeze: You can request a TransUnion credit freeze through their online portal. You can also add a freeze via the automated phone system (or opt to speak to a live agent) by calling 888-909-8872. You can also print and complete TransUnion’s Security Freeze Request Form.
It’s also in your interest to beef up your cybersecurity. Identity protection services can scan the dark web for your personal information and insure you against future identity theft instances. Credit monitoring services will inform you if anything changes on your credit report. Some of the best credit monitoring services are free.