Has Your Identity Been Stolen?

Category: Privacy

If you're lucky, you'll know immediately when your identity has been stolen. A missing wallet or purse sets off an instant alarm. But many victims of identity theft don't learn of it until months after the fact, when enormous damage has been done to their finances and credit. Here's what to look for if you're concerned about possible identity theft...

Signs of Identity Theft

In some cases, the tipoff comes when you start receiving bills for things you did not buy. Even if your credit cards are still safely in your pocket, the information on them may be used to buy things online. Given the right personal information, identity thieves may open charge accounts, utility accounts, and unsecured loan accounts in your name. Often they use a billing address different from the victim's, so the first notice the victim receives is a call from a collection agency. By then, the victim may be on the hook for thousands of dollars with dozens of creditors. And the scammer could be long gone.

The first thing to do when you suspect that your identity has been stolen is to file fraud alerts with all of your financial partners and the major credit bureaus. Here are phone numbers for the credit bureaus. Equifax: 800-525-6285; Experian: 888-397-3742; TransUnion: 800-680-7289.

The credit bureaus are required to give victims of identity theft free copies of their credit reports. (See my related article Free Credit Reports Online for more info.) These reports can help you discover unauthorized applications for credit made in your name. You should also request a "credit freeze" from each of the credit bureaus, which prevents anyone - including you - from obtaining new credit in your name.
Has Your Identity Been Stolen?

If your credit card is lost or stolen, you must report it immediately. Once you have reported your credit cards stolen, you will not be liable for any additional charges that may be made with them. Use these phone numbers to contact the credit card companies:

  • American Express: 800-297-7672
  • Discover Card: 800-347-2683
  • MasterCard: 800-622-7747
  • VISA: 866-434-6854

Minimizing the Damage of Identity Theft

Next step: File a police report. Although local police have little power to track down identity thieves across the country, a police report is generally required by other entities when you are trying to repair your credit record.

Contact your State's department of motor vehicles to see if anyone has tried to obtain a driver's license in your name. Do likewise with the Social Security Administration (800-772-1213). Request a copy of your Social Security earnings history to ensure that it is correct. It's not uncommon to find that someone else is working under your name.

Of course, you should close all of your existing credit card accounts immediately. Replace them with new ones if you can. Ask your bank if closing your checking or savings account is a good idea as well.

Change all of your online passwords, even if they are not associated with financial accounts. Be sure to choose strong passwords with a mixture of upper and lower case letters, digits, and special characters. See my related article Is Your Password Hacker Proof? for help selecting a good password.

A credit monitoring service may seem like a good idea right after you've been victimized by identity theft. Such services charge a monthly fee of $10 to $15 to monitor your credit records and alert you of any unusual activity. But they don't prevent identity theft; they only alert you to a problem after you have one. Yes, they will file all of the alerts mentioned above with credit bureaus and card companies, but you can do that yourself.

And credit monitoring services won't do the heavy lifting of defending you against fraudulent debts or rebuilding your credit. Most consumer advocates consider credit monitoring services to be a waste of money. See my article Credit Monitoring for a discussion of the pros and cons.

Have you had personal experience with identity theft? Post a comment or question below...

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Most recent comments on "Has Your Identity Been Stolen?"

Posted by:

10 Mar 2011

...this article is absolutely valuable and timely... It contains all the contact information that would be a bit difficult to organize in the chaotic time that might follow identity-theft issues.
Having been a past treasurer of a credit union, this is the type of article that I would have normally had posted on the information bulletin board - I had a few opportunities to personally witess the headaches involved with a few members who had to go through the process to try to re-establish their credit-worthiness. It definitely was NOT a pleasant thing with which to be involved.
Thanks, Bob - timely, valuable, a must-read for everybody, and a 'keeper' in my Favorites Links files.

Posted by:

13 Mar 2011

Thankfully I've never had my identity stolen to create new accounts under my name, but I've had my debit card number stolen, several times within a very short period. I think I know how this happened, though I can't be totally positive. Anyway, I stopped going to this particular store and I've had no problems since.

I do want to share, though, how my sister had her credit cards stolen and it is truly shameful. A couple years ago, she was driving in her town on a major road when a huge tire on a jacked-up truck in front of her came off the truck & crashed into her car. She pulled off the side of the road & the truck was on the other side of the road. They did call the police, but it took a whiel for them to get there. Thankfully no one was hurt. My sister got out of her car and walked over toward the guy in the truck. In them mean time, another guy appeared and came over to talk to them. He walked back to my sisters car with her asking if she was okay, etc. It was right before Xmas. This random guy then left, then re-appeared again, each time talking to my sister. After the police report was done, my sister was leaving and this other random guy even said told her Merry Christmas and to be careful and so on. Then...maybe a week later, my sister got a call from one of her credit card companies asking if she'd made some charges to her card. They weren't outrageous charges, but they were just smaller charges at local places she's never charged before. I guess the bank thought it was suspicious. My sister said no and then got worried. She then went into her wallet and found her cash and credit cards were missing (her wallet was still there, though). Long story short, that random guy that appeared when my sis was in that accident was the one who stole her cash & credit cards out of her wallet. When she walked across the street to the other involved car, she wasnt thinking & just left her purse in her car. This guy went into her car, into her purse, took out the cash & credit cards only, and left the wallet & purse. She never knew until her cr card company called about suspicious charges. This guy ended up being on several surveillance videos in several local stores using her cards and ended up being arrested. So...these criminals can get your info in ALL sorts of ways. It's not just on the internet.

Posted by:

16 Mar 2011

In addition to contacting the credit sites and banks, you can put a credit freeze with the credit reporting agencies. That prevents someone from getting credit with your information. If you need credit yourself, you will have to un-freeze yourself specifically but the credit reporting agencies tell you how. Thanks for the article.

Posted by:

16 Mar 2011

I just want to correct one [common] misconception. You said that ONCE you've reported your credit card as stolen, you're no longer liable for unauthorized charges. Well, yeah, because once it's reported, nobody (even you) will get an authorization. But more importantly, even before you report it, you are not liable. Under federal law, you have $0 liability for unauthorized charges, reported or unreported. In fact, your maximum liability is $50 if you wait more than 60 days to dispute the charge. (The reason is that your statement comes out every 30 days, and you have another 30 days to dispute it without liability. If you wait longer than that, then the price of procrastination is the maximum $50.)

Although debit cards are different financial instruments, and not subject to federal credit card laws, Visa and Mastercard both offer the same $0 liability as credit cards when a debit card is used as such.

Posted by:

17 Mar 2011

For another (simular) perspective, see http://www.moneytalksnews.com/2011/03/16/top-consumer-complaints-identity-theft/

Posted by:

03 May 2011

Identity theft is really widely spread all over the world. And I believe this mobile banking can be a cause of identity theft. Companies like identity protection could help us fight for our identity.

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