An identity thief can open new accounts in the name of a victim, borrow funds
in the victim s name, or take over and withdraw funds from existing accounts.
While these are the most prevalent, the FBI says that these financial crimes are
not the only criminal uses of stolen personal information. Other crimes can even
include evading detection by law enforcement in the commission of violent
crimes. Beyond the direct economic impact of identity theft, victims may be
unable to cash checks, obtain credit, or purchase real estate for a period of
months or even years and they may even be arrested for crimes committed by the
If you are the victim of identity theft, you could easily find yourself in the middle of a great deal and be unable to close because the financing won t go through. Correcting a credit report damaged by an identity thief is a time-consuming process you ll probably lose that deal and others before you get the problem resolved. The solution is to avoid becoming a victim or, if you are a victim, to find out early enough to minimize the damage.
Signs that you may be a victim of identity theft include:
- Charges on your accounts that you did not authorize.
- If you are denied credit even though you have a good credit history.
- If you are contacted by creditors regarding debts you never authorized for goods and services you never received.
- If your credit card and bank statements are not received in the mail as usual.
- If a new or renewed credit card is not received.
The most important thing you can do to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft is to be aware of the problem and protect your personal information. Store your personal information in a safe place and don t give it out unless you initiated the contact. Remove your name from mailing lists for pre-approved credit lines and telemarketers. Shred credit card receipts and old statements before discarding. And check your credit report regularly.
You are entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus once a year. (Go to www.annualcreditreport.com to order yours.) Though it s possible for each credit report to be different, they usually contain much of the same information. Request one every four months and check the report carefully for unfamiliar activity. Take immediate action if you see anything that looks suspicious.
Consider investing in a credit monitoring service which will alert you to changes in your credit file. The cost ranges from $24 to $60 a year. Money Magazine s Pat Regnier says this may be worthwhile if you re a biz owner or real estate buyer who can t afford any halt on your credit after an ID fraud.
Bottom line: don t make it easy for someone to steal what you ve worked hard to build.
If the Worst Happens
If you are or even suspect you might be a victim of identity theft, take immediate action. Follow these steps recommended by the FBI:
- Contact the fraud departments for the three major credit bureaus to place fraud alerts on your credit file to reduce your risk of further victimization.
- Obtain and review a current copy of your credit report; the credit bureaus should automatically send that to you when you request the fraud alert.
- Contact the account issuer(s) where fraudulent accounts have been opened or your accounts have been taken over; ask for the fraud/security department and notify them by phone and in writing.
- Close all tampered or fraudulent accounts and ask about the existence of secondary cards.
- File a report with your local police department, as well as with the police department in the area where the ID theft occurred; get copies of the police reports.
- Keep a detailed log of who you spoke with and when, including name, title, phone number, and other contact information.