Identity Theft: 5 Urgent Steps to Take If You’re a Victim

Source: Thinkstock

Identity theft has become a huge problem recently with credit card data theft alone increasing 50 percent from 2005 to 2010. Of course, identity theft isn’t limited to your credit card information; data theft involving your driver’s license, insurance number, or social security number can be even more detrimental. Identity theft may require you to spend hours on the phone fixing your credit, and possibly even result in a dent in your credit score if all the issues are not resolved. Adults are not the only ones who suffer, either; child identity theft is growing quickly because parents often take months or even years to detect the theft because their kids seem too young to be affected.

There are at least 130 million malicious programs right now designed to steal your information. Hopefully, you will avoid falling victim to identity theft, but if you are currently suffering from stolen information or you want to be prepared for the future, read on to learn how to handle it.

1. Contact the Federal Trade Commission

If you are a victim of identity theft, immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission to report it. You can contact the FTC here. Under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act, the FTC has become a central agency which accepts complaints about identity theft, provides information about identity theft, offers referrals and other resources, and can potentially help victims with leverage for proving identity theft. The law itself makes identity theft a federal crime, and those convicted can face up to 15 years in jail.

Source: Thinkstock

2. Contact bank and credit card companies

If you are unsure how much information was stolen, or if you know for a fact that bank info was taken, contact your bank as soon as possible. If someone has your bank information, they can do a lot of damage without even walking into the bank itself. Close all accounts if possible, and talk to someone at the bank about any protection they offer in case fraudulent charges show up. You should also contact any company that you have a credit card with if you have one outside of your bank. Be sure to cancel all credit cards that may have been compromised. You can find a list of identity theft hotlines for ITAC (Identity Theft Assistance Center) members here; several banks and financial entities are listed. Many state Attorney General Offices also have identity theft hotlines.

Source: Thinkstock

3. Contact the credit bureaus

If you speak with someone at the FTC, check to see if they will notify the credit bureaus. Even if they do, however, you may have to wait until your report is processed, so you might be better off contacting the credit bureaus yourself. You should alert Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. By notifying the agencies yourself, you can also set up a fraud alert. If you create a fraud alert, anyone who requests your credit file will be notified that you believe you may be a victim of fraud. These alerts are usually 90 day alerts, and any lenders receiving the alert are supposed to take extra steps to verify that it is really you making the request for a new account. You should also request a credit report for your own knowledge.

Source: Thinkstock

4. Contact individual agencies

Depending on what information you think was stolen, you may need to contact other agencies. If you think you are a victim of identity theft through the mail, you should notify the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. You may need to contact the IRS if you think someone used your personal information for a tax violation, and you should contact your insurance company if there is any possibility that someone might misuse your benefits. If there is any chance that your social security number was stolen, contact the fraud line at 1-800-269-02711-800-269-0271. Lastly, notify the state DMV if your driver’s license is stolen.

Source: Thinkstock

5. Contact law enforcement

As soon as you determine that you are a victim of identity theft, you should notify your local police. If the crime happened elsewhere (say, on vacation) you may need to notify the police where the crime happened as well. If you know what was stolen, be sure to include that on the report. The more evidence you have when you fill out the report, the better, but even if you have no idea who stole what from you or when it happened, you should still notify the police. Having an identity theft report might help you later if it becomes a legal matter, and your financial institutions also might request it.

These are five important steps to take if you think your identity may have been compromised. Visit the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse fact sheet to see a complete list of items to consider.

More From Wall St. Cheat Sheet: