My Identity Has Been Stolen! What Do I Do Now? Part One

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By Adam Singer. Helping consumers with credit report errors to obtain corrections and compensation under the law. | Law Office of Adam G. Singer, PLCC

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Identity theft happens every day in the United States. Identity theft is the use of your personal information or financial information without your permission. Identity thieves use your information for various reasons: making credit card purchases with your existing accounts, obtaining new credit cards in your name, opening new utilities or cell phone accounts and stealing your tax refund. Those are just a few examples.

That is not a great feeling. You feel like you have been violated. Your personal information is out in the cyber universe and possibly on the dark web. What now? How do you protect yourself?

Here are some points to consider as you work with the appropriate professional for guidance. Grab a cup of coffee, tea or your favorite drink as we begin to explore the topics of identity theft, fraud procedures, credit reporting and the credit industry in general.

Action Steps If Your Identity Is Stolen

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there were 1.4 million reports of identity theft in 2021. The majority of identity theft cases dealt with credit cards, loans, leases, phones, utilities and bank fraud.

Once you realize that you have been an identity theft victim, just remember that there are concrete steps you can take to address the situation. You will get through this.

For many consumers, the most appropriate first step is to review your credit reports from each of the National Credit Reporting Agencies (NCRAs): Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. You can visit www.annualxcreditreport.com to attain your free reports.

Due to Covid, reports are free until April 2022, however, as a victim of identity theft, you are also entitled to a free report from each NCRA. You can also request a credit report by mail from each NCRA, through the national service:

• Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281

Or directly from each NCRA individually:

• Equifax, Consumer Fraud Division, P.O. Box 740256, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

• Experian, Fraud Department, P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

• TransUnion, Fraud Victim Assistance Department, P.O. Box 2000 Chester, PA 19016-2000

Precautionary Steps

While getting your free credit report, you also may want to add a fraud alert to your file. A fraud alert is a consumer statement added to your credit file which informs potential creditors that you are a victim of identity theft and that before extending credit, they should contact you at the telephone number provided on the statement to ensure that you did in fact apply for credit.

There are two important things you should know about fraud alerts:

1. It is crucial that a phone number is provided. You cannot be contacted by telephone if a phone number is not provided.

2. Remember, the fraud alert is a consumer statement placed on your credit file. There is no guarantee a potential creditor will read the fraud alert, nor will it guarantee the potential creditor will call the phone number listed on the alert.

The fraud alert is designed to be a layer of protection. It is not a 100% protective measure. An initial fraud alert will remain on your credit file for one year. After one year, you will have to contact the NCRA again to renew. To add a fraud alert, you do not have to contact all three NCRAs. The NCRAs have an agreement to share fraud alerts. When you notify one NCRA to add the fraud alert, that NCRA will share that information with the other two NCRAs.

Other Layers Of Protection

There are other layers of protection you can use to protect yourself including file lock, account lock, extended fraud alert and freeze.

• A file lock locks your credit file with the NCRA using the NCRA’s online app.

• An account lock locks your individual credit account with your bank or financial institution using that bank’s or financial institution’s online app.

• An extended fraud alert is a seven-year alert that is like the initial one-year alert, but you don’t have to contact the NCRAs for seven years to renew. Also, with the initial alert, you can add only one telephone number. With the extended alert, you can add two telephone numbers, such as work and home telephone numbers or day and night telephone numbers.

• A freeze is a way to lock your credit file to prevent any new credit activity, such as new credit applications.

Final Thoughts

This topic is quite broad. What was shared today may help an identity theft victim to get started.

To recap: An identity theft victim, at a minimum, should request a credit report from each of the NCRAs and add a fraud alert to those credit files. That initial fraud alert should ensure that the best telephone number to reach you at is added to the alert.

Remember, as an identity theft victim, your credit reports are free, and adding an alert is free.

Stay tuned for further articles and discussion. Be safe!

The information provided here is not legal, investment, tax or financial advice. You should consult with a licensed professional for advice concerning your specific situation.

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