7 Steps to Take When You Suspect Identity Theft

shutterstock_431388016Identity theft affects millions of consumers each year, many of whom don’t realize a problem exists until a bill arrives or their credit score suffers. Worse yet are those who have been scammed but the identity thief hasn’t acted. If you find yourself stuck in financial crime limbo, follow the steps below to minimize the damage before it occurs. The result could save you time, money and countless credit score points.

  1. Research. The web is full of resources that identify scammers and their contact information. Begin by
    • Googling phone numbers and email addresses to see if the source has appeared on any scam lists.
    • Contacting the business directly. Scammers who pose as legitimate business representatives are banking on the assumption that you won’t contact the business directly. Call their bluff by contacting them to verify the source’s employment.
  2. Check your accounts. Suspected identity theft could have already caused damage, especially if you haven’t checked your accounts recently. Pull your bank statements, credit card bills and other account information to review their contents. Highlight any suspicious activity.
  3. Contact your bank and creditors. Preventing identity theft is much easier than recovering from the damage. Contact your bank and creditors before a scammer has the opportunity to use your information. Explain your concerns and ask them to issue a new card or account numbers to protect you from future harm.
  4. Place fraud alerts in your credit files. The credit bureaus report the information provided to them, and fraudulent charges have the power to damage your credit reports and scores in the process. On accuracy by submitting online fraud alerts to the major credit bureaus—Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. A fraud alert is free and requires creditors to contact you before accessing your information or making a purchase in your name.
  5. File a police report. Contact your local police to file a report in the city where you reside. This step is essential if identity theft occurs because it allows you to establish a record and timeline of the crime.
  6. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. Identity theft is a worldwide problem and the FTC is responsible for protecting consumers in the United States. Aid them in their efforts by filing a formal complaint of ID theft on their website.
  7. Increase your security. Protecting yourself now and in the future requires a few direct moves:
    • Never provide your bank account information, Social Security Number or other personal identifiers over the phone.
    • If the source of your troubles originated on the Internet, now is the time to bulk up computer security. Contact a professional service to help you safeguard your accounts for future use and scan your existing system for spyware and viruses.
    • Keep sensitive documents like your birth certificate in a safety deposit box at the bank.

The bottom line: Don’t wait for an identity thief to strike before taking action. Trust your instincts and take steps to protect yourself.

For more information on how identity theft can affect your credit, check out Lexington Law’s 5 Credit Repair Focus Tracks.