Almost weekly you hear of new data breaches that expose sensitive information to identity thieves. Recently Equifax had a data breach that exposed an estimated 143 million people’s private information. Every year approximately 15 million Americans have their financial identities stolen. Even if you do everything right to protect yourself, you may still become a victim of identity theft. If you discover that your identity has been stolen consider doing some or all of the following:
1. Go to IdentityTheft.gov to file an identity theft report. This site will provide you a document you can send to businesses where fraudulent accounts were opened. It can also provide you with a recovery plan.
2. Call each credit reporting agency and freeze or place a fraud alert on your credit. Freezing your credit will prevent anyone, including yourself, from opening new accounts. A fraud alert will require anyone opening an account to provide additional verification before opening an account.
3. Dispute any fraudulent activity on your credit report with each of the three (3) credit reporting agencies. Any unpaid fraudulent account can adversely affect your credit for years.
4. File a police report with your local police department. While criminal charges may not ever be filed, or your money refunded, a report will assist you in supporting your assertions of fraudulent activity.
5. Contact each institution, in writing, where a fraudulent account was opened to close the account. The Federal Trade Commission provides a sample letter you can use to dispute the accounts (https://www.identitytheft.gov/Sample-Letters/identity-theft-dispute-newaccount).
It may be impossible to prevent identity thieves from stealing your financial information but it is imperative that when it does happen you work swiftly to correct the problem. Remedying the situation can be a lengthy process but not doing anything can cause untold harm.