It’s a situation we hope never to face, yet in this age of mass communication and consumption the chances are good that you could become the victim of identity theft. It could happen when your purse or wallet is stolen, or if a misplaced credit card statement ends up in the wrong hands. For some who have experienced this frustrating crime first-hand, it’s taken several years to right all the wrongs. However, if there is any comfort to draw from such news, it’s that people and credit card companies are more aware of these possibilities as a result, and should your identity be used for fraudulent purposes you can combat it.
First things first, don’t panic. It’s important to keep a clear head when you realized identity theft has affected you. You’ll need to rely on your memory to pinpoint when and where the theft originated – whether you misplaced your driver’s license in a public place, or entered personal information on a Web site. If the fraud involves unauthorized use of a credit card, immediately review past statements for dubious charges. It’s easy to get into a cycle of automatically paying bills as they come in, and you want to be certain a thief hasn’t been using your accounts for longer than you realize. Contact a consumer reporting company that specializes in preventing credit fraud and have alerts placed on your credit reports. This will prevent an identity thief from using your personal information to apply for more cards in your name.
Next, obtain a copy of your credit report and check for falsified information. A recent report will let you know if you – or somebody pretending to be you – has applied for cards and accounts. What information is inaccurate, report it immediately.
Especially if you’ve had a wallet or purse taken, make note of every account you have that could be compromised, and contact the security department of each one to alert them to the fraud and have accounts closed. When applying for replacement cards, make sure not to use the same ID numbers and passwords associated with them.
Next, contact the Federal Trade Commission and report the theft. The FTC investigates claims and alerts government agencies about fraud, so your complaint could be heard by law enforcement officers not just in your area, but all over the country in the event your thief travels. You’ll also want to contact your local police to inform them of the actions you’ve taken to keep the fraud from continuing.
For detailed information on identity theft and how to proceed with clearing your name, the FTC maintains a thorough online guide to follow. The sooner you begin the process, the sooner you can put a stop to the headaches involved.