Steps to Take Now That Your Personal Information Has Been Compromised.
Identity theft is the fasting growing white collar crime in the United States.Taking a proactive approach can mitigate any potential future losses.You must be prepared to respond immediately if you are an identity theft victim. Combating the crime of identity theft is for the most part reactionary – in other words, something “bad” had already occurred.
First, have you in fact been a victim? The fact that your wallet or purse was stolen does not constitute “identity theft.” Certainly, a crime has occurred that should be reported to the police department in the city where the theft occurred, and the potential for identity theft is present, but chances are, it may not have occurred…yet. Identity theft occurs when someone secures and then uses your name, social security number and other personal information in order to obtain credit or goods and services that you are liable for payment. The fact that someone has criminally obtained your wallet or purse usually does not immediately translate into a crime of identity theft. Sure, your cash and credit cards will likely be taken, and eventually, the credit cards will likely be used, or even maxed out very quickly. It is for this reason, we strongly urge our clients NOT to regularly carry a social security card or any unnecessary papers that contain yours or anyone’s social security number.
While disturbing and an inconvenience, having your credit or debit card stolen is not identity theft.That’s credit card theft. And it’s a different crime from identity theft and requires a much simpler response in order to mitigate your potential loss. (Read my earlier blogs about credit card fraud and security threats).
So what can you do when you become aware that someone is out there using your name, social security number and address to secure cell phone service or enter into an automobile lease on your good name (and along the way, potentially ruining your credit)?
We have outlined seven steps you can take to help mitigate the impact a stolen identity can have on your short- and long-term credit and financial position.
1. Place a Fraud Alert
Contact one of the three credit reporting bureaus to request placing a “fraud alert” on any names in which personal information has been compromised. A “fraud alert” is free and remains in effect for 90 days. The three credit reporting bureaus share fraud alerts with each other.
• Equifax 1-800-525-6285
• Experian 1-888-397-3742
• TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
Issuing a fraud alert will make it more difficult for you to secure credit since the credit bureau will now have to verify your identity before credit is granted. A fraud alert is not the same as freezing your credit. Someone can still access your credit report with a fraud alert in place, if you so authorize.
2. Close Your Accounts Immediately
Close and cancel any bank accounts or credit / debit cards that have been compromised. We recommend keeping a photocopy (both sides) your credit and debit cards and any other information-sensitive items you may keep in your wallet or purse and house the copy with other important documents in your home.
3. Obtain Your Free Credit Reports
By law, you are permitted to receive for free one copy of your credit report each year, from each of the three credit reporting bureaus (phone numbers above). Or, you can obtain your report online at www.annualcreditreport.com. You should secure a copy now and do so going forward on an annual basis. If you note any transaction that is not yours, report it immediately to the credit-reporting bureau.
4. Credit Monitoring Services
Another option to consider, if not already provided free to you by the agency that was responsible for the data breech, is to consider a credit monitoring service. You can do what a credit monitoring service does free. A credit monitoring service can place a fraud alert on your account as well place a freeze on your credit. A credit monitoring service will usually send you an email alerting you that credit has been extended in your name or that someone inquired to your credit. Credit monitoring services charge based on the frequency of notification – the more frequent notification, the higher the cost. If you freeze your credit yourself, you don’t need credit monitoring. Usually credit cannot be granted.
5. Place a Credit Freeze on Your Account
It is easy and relatively inexpensive to freeze your credit. Fees associated with initiating a credit freeze vary by state. For Ohio residents, placing a “freeze” on your account if you have not been an identity theft victim will cost $5 per account per credit reporting bureau. If you have been an identity theft victim and have filed a police report these services are free. To “thaw” your account or to remove the “freeze,” it will also cost you $5 per transaction, per credit reporting bureau. All you need to do is contact each of the three credit reporting bureaus.
A freeze will remain in effect until you remove it. In Florida, the cost ranges from free to $10 per person, per bureau to freeze a credit report; a couple of states have higher fees (check your state for specific charges). The fees to “thaw” your reports for one creditor or for a specific period, range from free to $10. In Ohio, if you need to “thaw” your credit in order to allow someone access, there is a $5 fee and a $5 fee to “re-freeze” your account for each credit reporting bureau. (These are different departments than the numbers above).
• Equifax 1-800-685-1111 (Press 3)
• Experian 1-888-397-3742
• TransUnion 1-888-909-8872
Many consider freezing one’s credit as an inconvenience. It is. However, it is the best way to address a known case of identity theft. While most business will verify credit before extending such, freezing credit is not 100% guaranteed because not everyone or every business verifies one’s credit before actually granting credit.
6. File a Police Report
We always recommend that identity theft victims immediately file a police report. Again, not in the locale in which you reside (unless the theft occurred there), but the municipality in which the theft occurred.
7. Document Everything
Maintain a running log of exactly what happened and when, as well as your response. This would include dates, names, and companies involved or people you have spoken to emailed or received U.S. mail communication.
Regrouping – Moving Forward
We help folks who have been victims of fraudulent financial transactions, identity theft, and other financially compromising activities. If you need additional information, please contact Frank Suponcic, CPA, CFE, CFF, at 440-449-6800 to assist you and recommend additional steps.
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