Protecting Your Credit After an ID Theft with IdentityTheft.gov
Anyone is subject to ID theft these days. And when it happens, your credit can be damaged. That’s because criminals steal your ID to commit fraud and forgery in your name. Basically, ID theft is when someone takes your personal information without your knowledge or consent and uses the data for ill-gotten financial gain. Your personal information includes your name, address, birthday, credit card numbers, bank accounts, medical records and social security number.
Since there are many ways for ID theft to happen, your best defense is education. You need to understand how this type of theft happens, how to minimize your risk and what to do if you suspect your ID has been stolen.
How ID Theft Occurs – Let Us Count the Ways
In this digital world, many people focus on combating cyber security risks. The sad truth is that identity thieves don’t have to use cyberspace to steal your ID. Here are a few other examples of what these criminals have up their sleeves:
- Taking your mail from your mailbox — including bank and credit card statements.
- Stealing your wallet or purse from your car, home or from public places.
- Going through your trash.
- Launching telephone or email phishing scams
- Gaining access to your credit report by pretending to be an employer or landlord.
- Installing and using a skimming device on an ATM to capture credit card data.
- Submitting a change of address form to redirect your personal mail.
There are Signs
Determined identity thieves use any and all avenues to get what they want. Because ID theft can go undetected for some time, you must stay vigilant and know the signs, such as:
- Debt collectors calling to collect debts you don’t owe.
- Purchases appearing on your credit card
- Withdrawals from your bank account you didn’t make.
- Denial of credit for reasons that don’t match your financial circumstances.
- Receipt of bills for accounts you didn’t open and don’t own.
Not only is ID theft a personal violation of the worst kind, but trying to prove that you are a victim and not the culprit makes it unnerving at best. Identity theft criminals can ruin your credit by opening lines of credit or taking out a loan in your name and letting the accounts become delinquent. They may even file for bankruptcy in your name to avoid paying debts they owe.
You then unknowingly accrue delinquent accounts that result in legal judgements against you. This in turn can hurt your credit score and make it difficult for you to secure credit in the future. And, since some employers use credit ratings to determine employment risks, you may have trouble getting a job. Because identity thieves use your personal information to commit this fraud, it will take time and effort to clear your reputation and your credit.
How to Repair Your Credit If You Become an ID Theft Victim
As soon as you are aware or suspect that you are a victim of identity theft, take these steps as soon as possible:
- Gather the details and contact one of the major credit reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit reports.
- Get a copy of your credit report from the three credit bureaus and review the information on them carefully, looking for inaccuracies.
- Contact your creditors or banks and work with them to close accounts that have been compromised or fraudulently opened.
- Formally dispute any unauthorized transactions that creditors may have already reported to the credit bureaus. Follow-up phone conversations in writing using a trackable mail service such as certified or priority mail.
- File a report with the local police and obtain a copy of the report. While the thieves many not be apprehended, the report will help you deal with creditors.
- Contact the Federal Trade Commission and report the theft. The FTC monitors consumer fraud and helps consumers fight back.
Get Help with IdentityTheft.gov
A great resource to help you reclaim your credit is IdentityTheft.gov. This is a free resource that provides the step-by-step instruction we’ve reviewed here for reporting theft, stopping the damage and repairing your credit. At this site, you can file an FTC report and use checklists that guide you through the entire recovery process. Since documentation is very important, you will find tools and letter templates to help you record your efforts when communicating with creditors and the credit reporting bureaus.
With diligence, commitment and follow-through, you will be able to resolve your identity theft dispute following these steps. Along the way, be sure to document your actions and request documentation from creditors, such as a letter stating that the disputed accounts and fraudulent charges have been discharged. This documentation will come in handy should the fraudulent information reappear on your credit report.