Identity Theft Victim? Here Are 6 Things You Need to Do
Have you just become one of the more than 10 million Americans who fall victim to identity theft every year? Are you wondering what to do now that your identity has been stolen?
If so, don’t panic. You’re going to have to do several things right away, but each will help you put your life back in order, and not taking these steps will only prolong your ordeal.
1. Don’t talk about your identity being stolen.
The first thing you might want to do if you find out your identity has been stolen is to tell all your friends about it. But before you post your misfortune on Facebook or Twitter, keep in mind that letting the world know you’re a victim could make you even more vulnerable to exploitation by identity thieves.
“Advertising that you’re a victim lets other people know that a lot of your information is out there,” said Neil Chase, an expert with the Tempe, Arizona-based identity-protection service LifeLock. “You want to be careful about that.”
Chase said people who have had their identities stolen are more susceptible to online frauds, such as email phishing scams and credit-monitoring scams. Broadcasting that your identity has been stolen might increase your risk of attracting these kinds of fraudulent solicitations.
2. Place a fraud alert on your credit file.
To get your life — and your credit — back in order, you’ll need to take charge in the days and weeks following an identity theft. The first thing to do is to call one of the three major credit reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion — and request that it place a fraud alert on your credit file. Whichever company you contact will notify the other two credit bureaus about the alert.
If you place a fraud alert on your file, businesses must then verify your identity before issuing credit in your name. This means you’ll get a call if a criminal uses your name to open a fraudulent account.
While you have the credit bureau on the phone, make sure the contact information on your credit file is up to date. You can renew the initial fraud alert on your account for free after 90 days.
There’s also a fourth, lesser-known credit bureau that you may want to contact when placing a fraud alert on your file — Innovis. This company keeps track of credit information that the big three don’t bother with, such as utility bills and cellphone payments. Issuing an alert with Innovis could prevent a lot of headaches for identity-theft victims.
3. Request a credit freeze.
If you’re truly worried about your credit or have a lot of assets to protect, consider placing a freeze on your credit file. Freezing your credit will make it even more difficult for identity thieves to open up new accounts or access credit in your name. You will still be able to open legitimate lines of credit even when your credit file is frozen.
To freeze your credit, you’ll need to contact each of the three major credit bureaus individually. Report that your identity has been stolen and that you’d like to freeze your credit. You’ll likely need to pay a fee to each bureau, which is determined by state law but typically costs between $3 and $11.
While fraud alerts need to be renewed every 90 days, credit freezes make your credit report inaccessible to creditors (and criminals) for much longer — usually until you decide to lift the freeze on your file.