Having your identity stolen could jeopardize your credit rating and your entire financial future for years to come. Here's what you need to do.
We recently discussed how to check your credit report for errors and what to do if you find them. In that post, we noted that sometimes errors can be a sign of fraud or identity theft, so we wanted to dive a little deeper into what you do if it happens to you.
Spoiler alert: It happened to this writer when reviewing her credit report on the advice of this blog! There they were: two unfamiliar hard credit checks. It really can happen to anyone—it happened to an estimated 14.4 million people last year—even if you are as careful as can be with your private information. There’s no way around giving some companies your information, and when they have giant data breaches—like Equifax did in 2017—millions of people are more vulnerable to fraud and identity theft.
Remember, unscrupulous credit checks can negatively impact your credit, nevermind if someone is able to open accounts in your name, run up debts, and never pay them. If you already have poor credit or are just starting to build credit, these actions can be especially devastating to your finances and credit score.
So what do you do if it happens to YOU?
1. Report fraud / ID theft to the police.
Your first step when you think you might be the victim of fraud or identity theft? File a report with the police, according to Justin Lavelle, Chief Communications Officer with BeenVerified.com.
“This acts as your first official documentation that a crime has taken place,” says Lavelle. “Furthermore, many businesses and agencies require a police report as fraud-and-identity-theft proof before going through with their own investigations.”
2. Alert the credit bureaus.
If you found suspicious activity on one of your credit reports, you should alert the credit bureau in question as soon as possible. Remember, credit bureaus report differently, so you may see suspicious information on one report but not others. Sometimes you can file a dispute online, and sometimes you’ll have to call. This writer had to call. The service person opened the dispute immediately, the case was investigated, and the suspicious activity was removed from her report within twenty-four hours.
The credit bureau followed up by mail to confirm the dispute results, and let her know that they contacted the other two credit bureaus about the incident on her behalf in the form of a fraud alert, which stays attached to the accounts for one year. However, it is advised that you contact all three bureaus directly yourself, just to be on the safe side.
It also alerted her that they sent information to the vendor that requested the information from the credit bureau in the first place, instructing them to review the information and update their records as necessary.
The credit bureau even let her know that, in addition to the three free credit reports that everyone has access to each year, she was entitled to an additional free credit report to help me monitor the situation.
3. Alert related companies, if applicable
The credit bureau representative she talked to strongly recommended that she also contact the vendor who requested her information on her own, since a fraudster can exploit accounts for some time before it becomes apparent to victims or the accounts themselves.
Some companies have their own portals for documenting potential fraud and identity theft. Be sure to carefully follow instructions, provide all the required documentation, and meet all deadlines to ensure your dispute is processed.
4. Alert the Federal Trade Commission.
Another agency to contact is the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via IdentityTheft.gov. “If you suspect you are the victim of identity theft, immediately report it to the FTC,” says Holly Zink, a scam and identity theft expert for Kiwi Searches. “You just tell them what happened by following the prompts on their site, and they will initially provide you with some information on some actions you can take.”
The IdentityTheft.gov website also houses lots of information and resources about identity theft. For example, if you know exactly what information, such as a social security number, was lost or stolen (not always the case)—or if you’ve been alerted that you may be the victim of a specific data breach—the website provides tips for what to do in each situation.
5. Assess your financial accounts.
This includes all your bank accounts and credit cards. “Keep an eye on your bank and credit accounts for any suspicious activity,” says Lavelle. “If you see a charge that you don’t recognize it, immediately contact your bank or credit card services to contest it.”
Zink also recommends setting up fraud alerts with your bank. “Your bank will call, email, or text message you if there are suspicious charges on your account,” she says. This can usually be done online, and you can usually customize the dollar amount that prompts an alert.
6. Consider additional protection.
When you report fraud or identity theft to credit bureaus, you’ll be given the option of placing a free one-year fraud alert on your credit report. You have to do this individually which each of the three big credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.
A fraud alert lets lenders (or anyone seeking information from your credit report) know that your account has been compromised and encourages them to take extra steps in order to verify your identity. In some cases, you may be able to get an extended seven-year fraud alert by filing an FTC identity theft report.
Lavelle also recommends considering a credit freeze, which again, needs to be requested individually with each individual credit reporting bureau. This will prevent any entity from accessing your credit information without your permission. “They will alert businesses and loan distributors of fraud and identity theft linked to your name and social security number. Thus, no one (including you) can request credit or loan services,” says Lavelle.
If you know you are going to apply for something, such as a—personal loan—that requires a credit check, you will need to plan to manually unfreeze your account with a special pin number. It does not immediately unfreeze, which can be a pain, but it’s the only way to completely control who can access your credit information.
You can also sign up for a credit monitoring service, which all three credit bureaus, as well as other entities, offer. Credit monitoring will alert you to any changes to your credit information, so you can verify them right away and deal with suspicious activity as soon as possible. If you have been the victim of a data breach, you may be entitled to free credit monitoring services.
Zink warns that adults are not the only victims of identity theft. “Many don’t consider that a child’s identity can be stolen,” she says. “With children not having a credit or job history, they are the perfect target. It usually takes many years for anyone to realize a child is a victim of identity theft.”
Lavelle adds that elders can also be targets. “The elderly are at great risk for identity theft because they tend to more easily trust others with their personal information,” he says, “In addition, the fact that they didn’t grow up with the internet may make it a challenge for them to understand the steps they must take to protect their identity online.
Justin Lavelle is Chief Communications Officer for BeenVerified.com (@BeenVerified) and a leading expert on identity theft and scams. BeenVerified is a leading source of online background checks and contact information. It allows individuals to find more information about people including: phone numbers, email addresses, property records, marital status, and criminal records in a way that’s fast, easy, and affordable.
Subscribe to our newsletter for more marketing news & industry trends
The information contained herein is provided for free and is to be used for educational and informational purposes only. We are not a credit repair organization as defined under federal or state law and we do not provide "credit repair" services or advice or assistance regarding "rebuilding" or "improving" your credit. Articles provided in connection with this blog are general in nature, provided for informational purposes only and are not a substitute for individualized professional advice. We make no representation that we will improve or attempt to improve your credit record, history, or rating through the use of the resources provided through the OppLoans blog.