You've read about it, and you thought it would never happen to you. But suddenly your bank account is empty, your credit card bills are through the roof, and you're getting late notices for accounts you don't own. Your identity has been stolen. What now?
Time is money
To minimize your losses, act fast. Contact, in this order:
- Your credit card companies
- Your bank
- The three major credit bureaus
- Local, state, or federal law enforcement authorities
Your credit card companies
Credit card companies are getting better at detecting fraud; in many cases, if they spot activity outside the mainstream of your normal card usage, they'll call you to confirm that you made the charges. But the responsibility to notify them of lost or stolen cards is still yours.
If you do so in a reasonable time period (within 30 days after you discover the loss), you won't be responsible for more than $50 per card in fraudulent charges. Ask that the accounts be closed at your request, and open new accounts with password protection.
If an identity thief opens new accounts in your name, you'll need to prove it wasn't you who opened them. Ask the creditors for copies of application forms or other transaction records to verify that the signature on them isn't yours.
Follow up your initial creditor contacts with letters indicating the date you reported the loss or theft. Watch your subsequent monthly statements from the creditor; if any fraudulent charges appear, contest them in writing.
If your debit (ATM) card is lost or stolen, you won't be held responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals if you report the loss before it's used. Otherwise, the extent of your liability depends on how quickly you report the loss.
- If you report the loss within two business days after you notice the card is missing, you'll be held liable for up to $50 of unauthorized withdrawals. (If the card doubles as a credit card, you may not be protected by this limit.)
- If you fail to report the loss within two days after you notice the card is missing, you can be held responsible for up to $500 in unauthorized withdrawals.
- If you fail to report an unauthorized transfer or withdrawal that's posted on your bank statement within 60 days after the statement is mailed to you, you risk unlimited loss.
If your checkbook is lost or stolen, stop payment on any outstanding checks, then close the account and open a new one. Dispute any fraudulent checks accepted by merchants in order to prevent collection activity against you. And notify the check-guarantee bureaus:
- Certegy (FIS) www.certegy.com
- Check Rite www.checkritesystems.com
- ChexSystems www.chexhelp.com
- NPC www.npc.net
- SCAN www.nobouncedchecks.com
- TeleCheck www.telecheck.com
Have questions about what to do if your identity is stolen? Post a comment below or contact our Financial Services Group at 440-449-6800. Or click here for part two of this article which looks at the involvement of the three major credit bureaus, and local, state, or federal law enforcement authorities.