Identity Theft: What To Do If You’ve Been Ripped Off

Last week’s post dealt with preventing identity theft. This is especially true for the holidays, as cyber thieves just love to take advantage of the increased debit and credit card transactions that occur during the busy shopping season.

Amateur identity thieves will sometimes rifle through people’s trash, hoping to come across discarded bank statements or other forms with account numbers or other sensitive information printed on them.

Sometimes, you won’t know you’re a victim of identity theft until months or years after the fact. You go to use your credit card, or to file your taxes, only to find that someone else has already done so under your name. A quick check of your credit report shows a random loan under your name, or the IRS insists your tax return has already been processed and your refund sent.

Those are dead giveaways. Here’s what to do if you discover you’ve been a victim of identity theft:

  • Contact the affected party. For example, if someone cleaned out your bank account or opened an account  under your name, contact the back or credit card company immediately. Complete all the steps necessary to report the fraudulent transaction or account. Do this as soon as you realize you’ve been ripped off.
  • Review all of your credit reports. You are entitled to one free copy from each credit reporting agency per year. Review each report for fraudulent activity. File a written dispute for each fraudulent account. Place a fraud alert on all three credit reports; you’ll be notified if anyone attempts to open an account or take out a loan in your name. You can contact the credit reporting agencies by phone or mail.
  • File a police report and identity theft affidavit through the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Many banks, mortgage companies and other entities will require this information in order for you to file a report with them.
  • Notify government agencies such as the Social Security Administration and the IRS. When tax time rolls around you may be asked to provide additional information to verify your identity, but the extra due diligence will be worth it in the long run.
  • Continue to monitor your credit reports, loans, and bank accounts. Some banks and credit reporting agencies offer credit monitoring services in exchange for a monthly fee, or you can monitor your accounts yourself. Either way, monitor your accounts often. Once someone has your personal information, they will continue to use it as much as they can. It’s not uncommon for identity theft syndicates to swipe consumer information, only to use it for themselves or to sell it to other entities.

Safeguarding your personal information is a must year-round, but especially during the holiday season. Never disclose your PIN or bank account number to anyone. Never write down your PIN where it can easily be found, such as in your wallet or even in your phone.

Act quickly if you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Notify your bank, credit reporting agencies, mortgage company and other entities. Fill out a police report and an FTC affidavit. Don’t wait. Untangling identity theft can take time, and you want time on your side.

By taking a proactive approach to safeguarding your personal information, you’re less likely to be targeted by identity thieves. If you are one of the unlucky ones who has been targeted, you have the information you need to take action quickly.

Stay safe out there.