Third in a series
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review the reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. In placing an initial 90-day fraud alert, a call to one company is sufficient:
- Equifax 800 525 6285
- Experian 888 397 3742
- TransUnion 800 680 7289
Look for enquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain.
Close any account that has been tampered with or established fraudulently. Call the security or fraud division of each company where an account was opened or changed. Use the ID Theft Affidavit at ftc.gov/idtheft to support your statement. Ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and fraudulent debts removed. Keep all copies and document all phone conversations.
If you know who opened the fraudulent account, file a police report.
Detect suspicious activity by routinely monitoring your financial accounts and billing statements.
Be alert to signs the require immediate attention:
- Bills that do not arrive as expected
- Unexpected credit cards or account statements
- Denials of credit for no apparent reason
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make
- Your credit report. Credit reports contain information abut you, including what accounts you have and your bill paying history. The law requires the major nationwide consumer reporting companies–Equifax,Experian, and TransUnion–to give you a free copy of your credit report each year if you ask for it. However, that means the crooks can get one too if they have the right information. If you think you are a victim of a fraud (like having your email hacked), you might want to put a fraud alert on these and then you will be notified when anyone runs a credit report.
- Visit http://www.AnnualCreditReport.com, or call 877-322-8228, a service created by these three companies, to order your free credit reports each year.
- Your financial statements. Review financial accounts and billing statements regularly, looking for charges you did not make.
Next: how to defend against ID theft
Identity theft is an ever-increasing crime. It occurs when personal information is stolen and used without your knowledge to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity theft can cost you time and money and it can destroy credit and ruin your good name.
Safeguard your information:
Shred financial documents and paperwork like those checks from credit cards that come in the mail. Be sure you are using a cross-cut shredder and not one that just cuts in strips. I was told by a fraud detective that criminals hyped up on meth can stay up for days, taping those strips back together.
Protect your Social Security number. Don’t carry the card in your wallet and ask to use a different identifier at doctor’s offices.
Don’t give out personal information on the phone. Crooks now have a device that will make it look like your bank is calling you if you have caller-ID on your phone. Ask to come into the bank or to call back a number you know to be the bank’s true number.
Never click on links sent in unsolicited emails. Visit OnGuardOnline.gov for more information. If your email address gets hacked, you probably should put an alert on your credit reports.
Don’t use obvious passwords like your birth date, your mother’s maiden name, or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Change your passwords often.
Keep your personal information in a secure place at home, especially if you have others come into your home to do work.
Next: How to detect suspicious activity.