You may think it cannot happen to you. Maybe you feel you do not have enough money for anyone to be interested in stealing your identity. However, when you discover that someone has used your personal information to obtain credit or access your financial accounts, it can be a devastating feeling of violation.
With increases in the popularity of online shopping, digital banking and electronic transactions comes the danger of identity theft that can damage your credit and leave you floundering to put your life back in order. Extreme cases result in bankruptcy and ruination. The faster you take the appropriate steps after discovering someone has stolen your identity, the better your chances of avoiding financial devastation.
Reporting the fraud
Immediately after discovering that someone has stolen your identity, you should contact the affected institutions. This may include your bank or credit card company. If your debit card was compromised, you have a limited amount of time, specifically two days after you discover the transactions, to report the breach before you become responsible for any transaction. Reporting within the time limit reduces your liability for purchases to $50. For 60 days after that, your liability limit is $500, and beyond 60 days, you will owe the full amount.
Your next step is to notify one of the credit reporting agencies – Equifax, Experian or TransUnion – that you want a fraud alert on your files. This alert will remain on your files for three months, but you can extend it for seven years. You may also request a credit freeze, which will prevent someone from obtaining credit using your information. However, it will also limit your ability to obtain credit.
Other steps that will help you protect your credit after identity theft include the following:
- File a report on the Federal Trade Commission's website.
- File a report with local police where the theft occurred.
- Send a copy of the police report to your creditors and obtain copies of their reports of the fraudulent transactions on your account.
- Send copies of your documents to the credit reporting agencies, the Social Security Administration and utility companies.
- Change your passwords and replace your driver's license.
Many of these steps may be challenging. For example, you may have difficulty obtaining a report from your creditors or information about where the charges originated unless you have the backing of a legal professional. Businesses may be reluctant to release certain information to you unless you have an attorney advocating for your cause.