Identity stolen? What next?

Every year, millions of residents in the United States have their information used fraudulently through identity theft and usually don't realize it until their credit is already affected. It can take months or even years to clean up the mess the thieves made on their good name and credit history; meanwhile making it difficult for the victims to obtain credit, apply for housing, obtain a job, etc. While there is no way to guarantee that you don't fall victim to identity theft, there are ways to help prevent it from happening to you:

  1. Check your credit reports and NSLDS (National Student Loan Data System) regularly for any errors.
  2. When creating passwords, avoid using easily available information (i.e. birth date, phone number, last 4 digits of your social security number) and use strong (unpredictable combination of letters, numbers, and symbols) passwords instead.
  3. Secure your personal information at home and shred any sensitive mail you don't want to keep (i.e. credit card offers).
  4. Don't give out your personal information unless you've initiated the contact, are sure you know who you are dealing with, and in a secure location.
  5. Treat your mail and trash carefully—if you have an unsecured mailbox, place your outgoing mail in post office collection boxes, at your local post office, etc. Check your mail regularly too and be sure to shred any sensitive documents (i.e. charge receipts, credit card offers, bank statements, etc.) before putting them in the trash.
  6. Don't carry your social security card; leave it in a secure place; carry only the identification information and the credit/debit cards you will actually need when you go out.
  7. Be cautious when responding to promotional offers.
  8. When ordering new checks, pick them up from the bank or take extra caution if having them mailed to your home.
  9. Use current and active virus protection software on your computer.
  10. Do not open e-mails/files sent to you from strangers or click on links or download things that appear suspicious.
  11. Use a secure browser to guard your online transactions.
  12. If you dispose your computer, don't just delete your information but “wipe out” your entire hard drive to ensure any stored information is deleted.

So what do you do in the event that identity theft does happen?

  1. If you lose your debit/credit card or notice anything suspicious, contact your bank to close your accounts immediately and place passwords on your new accounts.
  2. If you lose your social security card, call one of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit reports to help stop someone from opening new credit accounts in your name.
  3. If you lose your driver's license or other government-issued identification, contact the agency that issued your document immediately and follow their procedures to cancel the document and get a replacement. Ask them to flag your file so that no one else can get a license or other identification document in your name.
  4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
  5. File a complaint with the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) at or toll-free 10877-IDTHEFT.
  6. Keep a detailed record of the steps you take to report your identity theft; for example, who you contacted, their contact information, when you spoke with them, any comments, etc. Whenever possible, obtain written documentation of the actions you took.

While the above list is not complete, hopefully it will help give you a better idea of what steps you can take to help prevent identity theft from happening to you and what to do in the event that it does happen.

For your reference, the three major consumer reporting companies are:

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
Experian: 1-888-397-3742
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

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