Seven Steps to Limit The Damage of Identity Theft

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Identity theft can plague even those who carefully safeguard their personal information and quickly respond to data breaches. If you find yourself a victim, there are actions you can take to alleviate long-term financial harm and stress.

Follow these seven steps for identity theft protection as soon as you realize your identity has been stolen:

  1. Request a fraud alert from one of the three U.S. credit reporting agencies.
    Contact Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion to place a fraud alert so that new credit accounts can't be opened without your authorized approval. The three credit reporting agencies work together, so when an alert is requested with one agency it is also sent to the other two.
  2. Apply a security freeze to your credit files.
    Unlike issuing a fraud alert, you will have to contact each credit reporting agency separately to institute the security freeze.
  3. Get rid of fraudulent accounts.
    Reach out to the necessary banks, creditors, and phone and utility companies to ask them to stop reporting the fraudulent accounts.
  4. Inspect your credit reports.
    Collect your credit reports from Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion, and look for unfamiliar inquiries and new accounts that have been opened in your name. Check back on your reports regularly because new accounts can take as long as six months to post. You can access one free credit report each year from all three agencies at annualcreditreport.com.
  5. Contact the police.
    Call the police department with jurisdiction in your case and ask for a police report, which can help show creditors that someone else has opened an account in your name.
  6. Call the Federal Trade Commission.
    You can file a complaint through the Federal Trade Commission's identity theft hotline at 1-877-438-4338. While the Federal Trade Commission does not settle consumer problems, your grievance could result in action by law enforcement.
  7. Keep a detailed record throughout this process.
    If there is a chance your case could turn into a lawsuit, make sure to record the amount of time you spend working on the problem. Send all of your letters by certified mail, and make copies of all documents to file away for your own records.
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