With millions of Americans at risk of identity theft every year, staying vigilant is essential when it comes to your safety. Unfortunately, clearing your name and credit history can be tedious, but it’s not impossible. In fact, with a bit of work and diligence, you can correct the situation to minimize the damage and improve the chances of clearing your name. Acting quickly is important, especially at the beginning stages.
One of the first things you need to recognize is the importance of detection. Without proper monitoring, your identity can be taken and dragged through the mud. The longer thieves have access to your credit, the longer your accounts will sit in collections, defaulting or attempting to open various accounts. Criminals want to use your history and good name to access funds or resources without repercussion (meaning they want to rack up debt without paying for it or rent apartments they don’t intend to pay for).
The easiest way to prevent identity theft is through monitoring. To get started, run a background check of your identification. Carefully check that all accounts open and active are in your name and are accounts you’ve opened. Look for any default or delinquent accounts, especially if you’ve always paid your bills on time. If you notice anything that doesn’t belong to you, don’t panic. Here’s how to recover your identity if it’s been stolen:
Notify affected financial institutions
If you’ve noticed any accounts with exceptionally high balances (but are accounts you’ve opened), contact the credit card issuer directly. The majority of creditors will have a zero-fault policy against identity theft. Meaning, if you’ve been impacted by credit card fraud, you’re protected under the Fair Billing Act. This act specifies that liability to a cardholder cannot exceed $50.
It’s crucial to report any lost or stolen cards as soon as you’ve noticed them missing. This will protect you against any charges made after this date and time. If you do report any unauthorized charges, you’ll need to be diligent about it. The Fair Billing Act requires any charges or expenses to be reported within 48-hours. After this timeframe, your liability jumps from $50 to $500.
Report the Identity Theft to the Police
Although many identity theft cases can be international, it’s always good to report the theft to local police departments. Having this occurrence or incident number available can help improve the chances of reversing your financial charges (whether a credit card or draining your bank account). You’ll also protect yourself against any criminal accusations in the future, should your identity be used in a crime.
Put a Report on the Credit Report
Fraud can destroy any credit score you’ve worked to build, on top of draining your resources. Protecting your credit from further damage needs to be high on your priority list if you’ve been a victim of theft. All credit bureaus can post a fraud alert to your account, which will prevent any new accounts from being opened without speaking to your first. These reports are free to file and will be put the record on your file for one year to help mitigate any ongoing usage. These reports can be extended up to seven years after completing an Identity Theft Report.
Freeze Your Accounts
A credit freeze will lock down any account you have on file and will prevent any new credit inquiries from happening. The freeze needs to be done through the credit reporting agencies, which is free to do. A credit freeze will issue a pin or password for the account, which will be needed to lift the limitation. While there is no time limit on the freeze, it’s essential only to open the file back up when you’re confident your information is secure.
Monitor Your Report
As you continue to lock down your accounts, stay on top of any changes through the reporting agencies. A background check will include a complete financial history, including any hard credit checks on your report you didn’t authorize. An active case of stolen identity will show multiple hard credit checks as a thief tries to open new accounts. Pay attention to any ongoing accounts, balances, and payments you’ve made throughout the following months. It’s always a wise idea to print these financial reports for your records and use them to compare your history.
Change All Account Passwords
Most cases of identity theft will include a compromised account. This means the criminal was able to access your account information using a sign-in and password. These details can be found through phishing emails, unsecured online purchases, or purchasing an account from the dark web. Once you’ve become aware of the theft, it’s important to change any online account password you have (primarily if you use the same password for multiple accounts). Always include alphanumeric passwords that avoid your first name, date of birth, or obvious information.