If you are a victim of identity theft, follow this guide to fix the damage.
Identity theft is a serious crime that can cause significant havoc for your reputation, credit history and finances. It's also a problem that takes patience, money and time to solve. If you are a victim of identity theft, follow this guide to fix the damage.
Acting quickly is the single best way to prevent as much damage as possible. Your identity may have been stolen if you see strange withdrawals from your bank account, receive calls from collectors about unexplained debts, stop receiving bills or other mail, get a notice that more than one tax return was filed with the Internal Revenue Service in your name, or if you find unfamiliar charges or accounts on your credit report. If you notice any of these signs, it is time to act.
The first step is to file an Initial Fraud Alert with one of the nationwide credit reporting companies (Experian, Equifax or TransUnion). Report that you are a victim of identity theft and ask them to place a fraud alert on your file. This is a free service, and the alert will stay on your report for 90 days.
Next, think about placing a credit freeze on your file. This prevents potential creditors from accessing your credit report and makes it more difficult for the person who stole your identity to open new accounts using your information. The fee to place a freeze on an account varies by state but is usually around $10. A freeze won't affect your credit score, and you can file one with each nationwide credit reporting company.
The next step is to contact businesses in which your account has been tampered with. Ask to speak to someone in the fraud department or send a letter by certified mail to create a record of your interactions.
Finally, you should create an Identity Theft Report by submitting a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission and filing a police report. This report helps you get fraudulent information off your credit report, place a longer fraud alert on your report and stop companies from collecting debts that stemmed from the crime. You can file a report online or over the phone, but make sure that you print copies for yourself for future reference. After filing the report, you may extend your fraud alert for up to seven years.
Taking these initial steps will help you dispute errors with companies that create credit reports and resolve issues with businesses and banks.