Last February we posted an article about protecting yourself from identity theft during tax season, “Safeguard Your Refund and Personal Information During Tax Time.” Looking back, the advice back then is still true today. But another question immediately comes to mind, what should we do if we fall victim to identity theft?
Step 1: File A Report
Identity theft has become so common that Federal and local authorities regularly coordinate to deal with this crime. If you think someone has stolen your identity, the Federal Trade Commission says to file an Identity Theft Report. Go to the FTC website and complete the online reporting form they have created. After doing that, take a printed copy of the FTC report to your local police.
An Identity Theft Report gives you some important rights and tools that can help you recover from the theft:
- Get fraudulent information removed from your credit report
- Stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft, or from selling the debt to another company for collection
- Place an extended fraud alert on your credit report
- Get information from companies about accounts the identity thief opened or misused
Step 2: Contact the Credit Reporting Companies
The IRS provides information at the helpful Taxpayer Guide to Identity Theft. Here the IRS lays out the steps you should take to avoiding or resolve tax problems that may arise from identity theft. They recommend contacting the credit bureaus right away.
According to the FTC, the three national credit reporting companies keep records of your credit history. If someone has misused your personal or financial information, call one of the companies and ask for an initial fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert is free. You must provide proof of your identity. The company you call must tell the other companies about your alert.
Step 3: Contact your Bank and Credit Card Companies
Identity theft is a problem for banks and credit card companies, too. One study suggested that identity theft costs financial institutions more than $50 billion per year. Consumer protection laws often hold financial institutions for losses related to this crime and so they are eager to help you stop the crooks. For example, Visa International offers its own Identity Theft Assistance and partners with the identity theft consumer network Call For Action. You can reach them by calling 1-866-ID-HOTLINE, or 1-866-434-6854. They’ll walk you step-by-step through the process of regaining your identity.
Your Best Defense
Of course the best way to avoid the headaches of identity theft is to not be a victim. Protect your personal information, shred unnecessary documents that have your personal information and don’t carry your social security card, passport or birth certificate with you. A few simple steps today can save you a lot of trouble down the road. The good news is that businesses, financial institutions, and law enforcement are now more aware and willing to help victims than ever before.