“I thought I kept my personal information to myself.” You may have, but identity thieves are resourceful: they rummage through your garbage, the trash of businesses, or public dumps. They may work — or pretend to work — for legitimate companies, medical offices, clinics, pharmacies, or government agencies, or convince you to reveal personal information. Some thieves pretend to represent an institution you trust, and try to trick you into revealing personal information by email or phone.
Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief can file a tax refund in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.
If your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial or account information are lost or stolen, contact the credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your credit file. Check your bank and other account statements for unusual activity. Order a free copy of your credit report periodically to monitor your accounts. You have a right to one free copy of your credit report from each of the national credit reporting companies every year. If you stagger your orders, you can get a credit report every four months.
Your state law controls the rights you have if your information is lost in a data breach. When the organization that lost your information lets you know about the breach, they should explain your options.
If you’ve created an Identity Theft Report, you can get an extended fraud alert on your credit file. When you place an extended alert, you can get 2 free credit reports within 12 months from each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies, and the credit reporting companies must take your name off marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for 5 years, unless you ask them to put your name back on the list. The extended alert lasts for 7 years.
Contact each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies.
Mark your calendar.
Update your files.
You may choose to put a credit freeze on your file. But a credit freeze may not stop misuse of your existing accounts or some other types of identity theft. Also, companies that you do business with would still have access to your credit report for some purposes. A fraud alert will allow some creditors to get your report as long as they verify your identity.
Putting a credit freeze on your credit file does not affect your credit score. If you place a credit freeze on your credit file, you can:
The cost to place and lift a freeze, and how long the freeze lasts, depend on state law: In many states, identity theft victims can place a freeze for free, but in others, victims must pay a fee, which is usually about $10. If you have a police report, you may be able to place or lift a freeze for free. You must pay the fee to each credit reporting company. Cost and lead times to lift a freeze may vary so you may want to check with state authorities (find them at naag.org) or the credit reporting companies in advance.
Contact your state Attorney General’s office.
If you know an identity thief tampered with some of your accounts, you may have contacted the related businesses already. After you get your credit reports, read them to see whether other fraudulent transactions or accounts are listed, and then take steps to correct the errors.
Your credit report is full of information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued, or have filed for bankruptcy. The information in your credit report is used to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, so it’s important that the information is accurate and up-to-date. Check all key information, including your: name, address, Social Security number, employers.
If you see errors on the report, like accounts you didn’t open or debts you didn’t incur, dispute the errors with the credit reporting companies and the fraud department of each business that reported an error.
If the errors result from identity theft and you have an Identity Theft Report, ask the credit reporting companies and business to block the disputed information from appearing on your credit reports. The credit reporting companies must block transactions and accounts if you are an identity theft victim.
As you contact businesses to make corrections, ask for copies of any documents the identity thief used to open a new account or make charges in your name. Here's how:
Contact the business that has records of the fraudulent transactions. Our sample letter can help. OR Give written permission to a law enforcement officer to contact the company on your behalf.
Ask for copies of documents the thief used to open new accounts or charge purchases in your name.
Send details about where or when the fraudulent transactions took place. Include a copy of your Identity Theft Report or the proof the business requires, and proof of your identity. The business must send you free copies of the records within 30 days of getting your request. For example, if you dispute a debt on a credit card account you did not open, ask for a copy of the application and applicant’s signature.
Acting fast limits your liability for charges you didn’t authorize. Report the loss or theft of your card to the card issuer as quickly as possible. Many companies have toll-free numbers and 24-hour service for such emergencies. Once you report the loss of your ATM or debit card, federal law says you cannot be held liable for unauthorized transfers that occur after that time.
Contact your ATM or debit card issuer.
Write a follow up letter to confirm that you reported the problem.
The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) and the Electronic Fund Transfer Act (EFTA) offer protection if your credit, ATM, or debit cards are lost or stolen.
Under the FCBA, your liability for unauthorized use of your credit card tops out at $50. However, if you report the loss before your credit card is used, the FCBA says you are not responsible for any charges you didn’t authorize. If your credit card number is stolen, but not the card, you are not liable for unauthorized use.
If you report an ATM or debit card missing before someone uses it, the EFTA says you are not responsible for any unauthorized transactions. If someone uses your ATM or debit card before you report it lost or stolen, your liability depends on how quickly you report it:
If someone makes unauthorized transactions with your debit card number, but your card is not lost, you are not liable for those transactions if you report them within 60 days of your statement being sent to you.
*Information from Federal Trade Commission