Identity theft can be temporarily devastating to your credit report. In addition, it takes time for credit card companies to refund the stolen money, temporarily hindering your personal life.
Some of this damage can be avoided if identity theft victims act promptly. Fortunately for victims, the United States Federal Trade Commission has recommended some steps to take if identity theft is underway or suspected.
Contact each financial institute responsible for your cards. Tell them about your concerns and wait to be transferred to their security or fraud department. If possible, let them know which charges, if any, are fraudulent. Even if there are no fraudulent charges yet, the company will issue a new card, just in case. Your money should be transferred seamlessly.
Filing a police report is crucial to removing unauthorized charges from your credit report. It’s not always necessary, but it usually helps prove the fraudulence of the reported items. Unfortunately, some police officers might refuse to write a report for a crime they likely won’t investigate, due to the crime’s complexity. In this case, filing a report may require some insistence and explaining that you’ll need the police report later.
Each of the major credit reporting agencies allows consumers to place an credit fraud alert on their account. A fraud alert is essentially a note on your credit report that says, “Hey, verify the identity of this person before giving him credit.” There are different levels of fraud alerts, but the first level, an initial 90 day alert, is a starting point. You may also want to extend the alert to seven years once the 90 days is up. The extended alert is called just that: an extended fraud alert.
Filing a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission helps the organization gather information about identity theft. Besides this, filing a police report and a complaint can constitute an Identity Theft Report. An Identity Theft Report does several things, but mostly protects you from debt collectors who attempt to collect on an unauthorized transaction. It also prevents these items from making a permanent place on your credit report.
Keep in mind that most of these steps are appropriate for determined identity theft or a crime that could lead to identity theft. For example, unauthorized credit card charges, no matter how small, or a stolen purse containing credit cards. Though it depends on the circumstances, it’s generally not productive to file a police report just because someone stood too close at an ATM. However, it may be worth notifying security, changing your ATM pin, and placing a temporary fraud alert on your credit report, which can be done online.
Lastly, take steps to better prevent identity theft in the future. Shred sensitive documents, keep credit cards in your front jean pocket, and don’t give out usernames and passwords online. After all, despite common beliefs otherwise, lightning can strike the same place twice.
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