Almost everybody has heard the horror stories and nightmare scenarios of an identity thief gaining your personal information and using it to establish credit card, loans and other lines of credit that you would not have applied for yourself. But what these scenarios rarely talk about are the steps you can take to prevent such an event from occurring, or what to do to clear your name should you find yourself in this situation.
Something that anybody can do, at any time, is to place a free 90-Day Fraud Alert on their credit reports. This requests that credit issuers (credit card companies, cell phones, etc) contact you first before they approve of any applications for credit. This will not affect accounts you have open or your credit score. As well, you can replace the fraud alert every 91 days at no charge, or extend it to seven years with a police report. The fraud alert can be applied for over the phone or going to each credit agency's website directly. It's always a good idea to place the fraud alert with all three companies yourself to make sure that possible fraud doesn't get in the way of your protection.
Once you place the 90-Day Fraud Alert the credit reporting agencies will send to you a letter with instructions on how to gain a free copy of your credit report. This way you can make sure that everything is ok with your credit reports and fraud isn't taking place. This report does not count towards your annual free credit report, allowing you to save that one for later.
But what should you do if there is something on your credit report? The first step is to file an Identity Theft Report through the Federal Trade Commission.
Once you have filed an Identity Theft Report, contact the companies that are reporting fraudulent accounts. Request to speak to their fraud or identity theft department and inform them of the fraudulent account. Fill out these documents, get them notarized, and send them back to the company/s with a copy of your Identity Theft Report. Some companies will ask for other things like a photocopy of your driver's license. Make sure you send these documents with your packet. Make sure you send it Certified Mail Return Receipt so that you get proof of when they received your paperwork.
Continue to talk to these companies and, if need be, send them any documents they may request. If all goes well, they will recognize this was identity theft and they won't hold you responsible. Make sure you get this in writing. Computers can error and humans make mistakes. These letters of clearance come in handy when this happens.
For more long term/permanent options for protection from identity theft (especially after you have already been victimized) look into freezing your credit reports with the three credit reporting agencies. The process is slightly different for each state, but all states offer the freeze for free to victims with a police report.
For more information, check out the ITRC victim assistance page here: http://www.idtheftcenter.org/victim-assistance-itrc.html
If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App.