How To Report Identity Theft
One in twenty people in the United States have been victims of identity theft and the number just keeps going up. Seniors are especially vulnerable to having their identities stolen. Prevention is certainly the ideal, but as common as identity theft is, even those who know what to look out for and avoid may find themselves dealing with strange charges on their accounts or new surprise debt on their credit report.
First, You Have to Catch It
Before you can do anything about being a victim of identity theft, you need to recognize it’s happened. That means keeping an eye on your bank and credit card statements and your credit report. The sooner you see suspicious charges, the easier it will be to respond to them and make sure the thief doesn’t get much profit or chance to harm you. As long as you report the theft quickly, federal law protects you from having to cover much of the cost of the charges the thief makes.
Then, You Have to Report It
This is a multi-step process:
1. Contact the affected bank or credit card company.
You should be able to find the number to call on your card itself or, if you don’t have it (for instance, if the card was stolen), check on the website, your statements, or your bills to find it. Let them know right away that there’s been a suspicious charge.
They should cancel your card for you so the thief can’t charge anything else on it, send you a new one, and in most cases will void the charge you report. Make sure to check all your other accounts as well, so you’ll know whether the thief’s knowledge extends beyond the first account you catch fraudulent charges on.
2. Contact a credit agency.
You can contact any of the main three credit reporting agencies: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. As long as you ask one of them to put a fraud alert on your credit report, the others will get the message. A fraud alert will ensure your credit is protected from any liability for the charges and debt applications made by the theft.
3. File a complaint with the FTC.
You can file a form through the FTC website or give them a call to report the offense at 1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338). They’ll talk you through the next steps to take.
4. File a report with your local police.
Contact your local police station and inform them of the theft as well. Ask for a copy of the police report for your own records. That way if your bank or credit card companies ask for the details, you’ll have them ready.
These four steps should result in your being protected from almost any liability or cost for the theft (you may still have to cover a small amount, up to $50 if you report it within 2 days of learning about it).
Special Cases of Identity Theft
If the type of identity theft you got hit with was someone filing a fraudulent tax return in order to make off with your refund, the steps are a bit different. You’ll still want to file reports with the FTC and local police, but you’ll also want to fill out the appropriate form to report it to the IRS as well.
If your wallet or purse was stolen and you need to have various forms of ID replaced, you’ll have to contact each relevant department separately to get new identification. If a thief gets ahold of sensitive information like your social security number through any of the items they steal, you need to make a point to be extra vigilant in tracking your accounts and credit.
Identify theft is a pain, but it’s gotten common enough that the institutions you need to contact about it will know what to do and do their best to help you through the process with minimal pain on your part.