The holidays are great fun, your favorite time of the year! Unfortunately, identity thieves love this season too. Why? Because you’re less attentive about protecting your identity this time of year.
Your credit card may have been out of your sight when you paid for dinner out.
You shopped online at an unscrupulous website.
Or maybe, when you posted your good times on social media, thieves saw it too, and paid a visit to your empty home, stole your stuff and rifled through your important documents.
If you have become a victim of identity theft, you must act quickly to protect your financial accounts and credit rating. Listed below are the things you’ll need to do. Be sure to keep extensive notes and records of the dates, names, telephone numbers and time of calls to each contact you make during this process.
1. Immediately place an Initial Fraud Alert with each of the three nationwide credit reporting companies. The alert will stay on your credit report for 90 days and make it more difficult for an ID thief to open further accounts using your name. When you contact the credit reporting agencies, update your contact information so they may reach you if needed.
2. You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the three companies when you file the alert, so be sure to order one. Once you have the reports in hand, carefully check them for fraudulent activity. If you see existing accounts may have been tampered with, or new ones set up, contact the affected businesses’ fraud department and explain the situation. Follow up in writing and send the letter certified mail with a return receipt requested to show record of the communication.
3. If you find you are a victim of identity theft, you must file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission to obtain an Identity Theft Affidavit. This is not the same as an Initial Fraud Alert. Once you obtain your ITA, file a police report with local authorities. Take the ITA to the police department with you, file a police report and attach the ITA to the report. Once you do this, you have established an Identity Theft Report. You can use the Identity Theft Report to assist you in getting fraudulent information removed from your credit history, stop firms from collecting the fraudulent debt from you or from assigning the debt to another company for collection.
4. Dispute! Once you have created your Identity Theft Report, again carefully examine your free credit reports for fraudulent activity. If errors found are the results of someone stealing your ID and you have an Identity Theft Report, the three credit report companies are required to block the transactions and accounts when you dispute them. You must dispute, though. Also, again contact the fraud departments of each new or existing business account where fraud is discovered.
You can obtain sample dispute letters, enclosures and FTC Identity Theft Affidavits, plus other forms, legal information and advice at the Federal Trade Commission website at www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Also, contact the Better Business Bureau if you have questions about identity theft or inquire about suspicious activities.
We cannot emphasize enough that you must act quickly. The time you are held harmless for various unauthorized transactions does have limits. The sooner you start, the process, the better your chances of limiting the damage to your finances and credit history.