If you’ve become a victim of identity theft, there’s a good chance you can recover without suffering any long-term consequences. However, you’ll have to take concrete steps to restore your credit to how it was before you were victimized, and make sure you stay engaged with your credit.
What Is Identity Theft?
“Identity theft” refers to the crime that occurs when another person uses your credit and personal information as if it were his own. By gaining access to a range of personal information data that, as a whole, only you should know, identity thieves can fool outsiders into appearing as if they are actually you. Information like your Social Security number, home address, phone number and date of birth allow identity thieves to open accounts in your name. Additional requests for information found in security questions – the name of your first pet, your mother’s maiden name, or the name of the city where you were born – are now helping to keep more of your information secure.
Review Your Credit
Reviewing your credit on a regular basis is a good way to remain on guard against identity theft. Once certain financial accounts such as credit cards, are opened in your name, they’ll soon appear on your credit report. By actively monitoring your credit, you’ll know fairly quickly if any unauthorized accounts have been opened that you don’t recognize. You can get a free copy of your credit report from each of the three nationwide bureaus once every 12 months from annual, or you can use credit monitoring products for more frequent reviews of your report.
If you find yourself the victim of identity theft, reviewing your credit immediately can help you determine what damage has been done. If you haven’t checked your credit recently, you may find a number of new accounts you don’t recognize, and some may even be reporting missed payments of balances that exceed their credit lines. You’ll need this information to start restoring your credit after the crime.
Contact Appropriate Agencies
Depending on the nature of your identity theft, you may have to contact a number of different agencies to resolve all the problems that can result. Contacting the Federal Trade Commission is often a good first step, as the FTC can provide you with useful information on the entire process. You’ll also want to contact the three credit reporting agencies, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. For starters, you can put fraud alerts on your credit reports, so no new accounts can be opened without your permission. You’re also entitled to at least one free credit report from each of the nationwide credit reporting agencies in the event of fraud or theft, and you can use those reports to show the agencies which entries are related to unauthorized use.
You should inform any institution that holds your financial information that you have been the victim of identity theft, even if those accounts have not been compromised, so that the crime does not spread. Don’t overlook accounts such as your cell phone service or your cable television provider: these companies are also likely to have your financial information on file and may be targeted.
Monitor and Protect
Once the after-effects of the incident have been resolved, continue reviewing your credit report to make sure that it remains accurate. Once the integrity of your identity has been restored, you’ll want to make sure it stays that way and that your credit report reflects your credit behaviors accurately. Actively keeping tabs on your credit report can help you know as soon as possible if your information has been stolen and can minimize the effect of being victimized in the future.
No Credit Card Required
About the Author
John Csiszar began writing in 1989 and his work appears in various online publications, including The Huffington Post. Csiszar earned a B.A. in English from UCLA and served 18 years as an investment adviser and certified financial planner.
This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.
Published by permission from ConsumerInfo.com, Inc., an Experian company. © 2014 ConsumerInfo.com, Inc. All rights reserved.