You followed our advice and got your free annual credit report and a credit score and were floored by a low score. You should have a score over 750! But you don’t because someone stole your identity, opened up a number of credit lines in your name, and never paid. If you think you should know because they would call, or you’d receive a bill at your address, you’d be mistaken. They can often use a different address and phone number claiming that you just moved.
Large companies like Home Depot, Toys R Us, and Kohl’s are often the target of identity thieves. It’s easy to open up a credit card, and they can buy items like gift cards. But because the actual amount is usually under $2000, the corporation doesn’t want to spend the time or money to prosecute. But your credit report shows you in default of $10,000.
Now is the time to clean up that report. But there are additional steps when your identity has been stolen.
So What Do I Do?
If your identity was stolen, you need to report it to your local police. A crime was committed, and it needs to be reported. Then you will use that report when you contact the major companies letting them know that a card was opened without your permission. They will be responsible for closing out the account and removing it from your credit file. You also need to put an alert on all three credit bureaus that you were a victim of identity theft. They will lock down your file and work with you and the corporations to remove the false items.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t always end there. Some companies will open up a line of credit, or will sign someone up for a cell phone without checking the report. They’ll just note if there is a credit score. Additionally, the thief might use your information to obtain health care benefits that could come back to you if the bills are unpaid. So even when you think you have things cleaned up, something new could show up even with a locked credit report. Therefore, you need to check regularly.
Here are some resources with checklists and links:
Maybe your identity wasn’t fully stolen. But thieves can still draw on your checking or savings or charge against your credit card leaving you with no money and a huge bill.
Can I Prevent This From Happening?
It’s not fool-proof, but there are definitely things you can do to lessen the possibility of having your identity stolen.
Lock your credit reports down. It will cost you about $5-10 depending upon where you live and the fees vary by the reporting agency. The good news is that it will cut down on the junk mail you get. Secondly, it will cut down on your impulse purchases because you won’t be able to open up a credit card on the spot. You will need to plan ahead when you make purchases like a home or an automobile.
Shred, Shred, Shred. Any item that has personal and identifying information should be shredded before you recycle. This includes your medical statements, credit card statements, bank statements,
Change your passwords often. Don’t have them written down. This includes your PINs as well.
Review your statements carefully when they arrive. Yes, it’s easy to toss it into the “I’ll get to it later” pile, but the sooner you find something, the easier it is to fix it.
Never give your credit card number over the phone to an unsolicited caller. You may genuinely believe in their cause, but it’s best to have them send you a statement, and you can validate the address before you send it.
Avoid writing personal checks to people you don’t know. They can use all of the routing and banking information to print checks, and then write checks against your account.
Ask your credit card companies to stop sending you promotional checks against your account. Unlike checking accounts, credit card companies don’t keep a signature card, and these are easily used to draw money against your credit card.
When purchasing online, make sure you’re buying from a reputable place, and that it’s a secure transaction. You can verify that by looking up at the URL area and seeing if it tells you that it’s secure, or https.
Write “Please Ask for Photo ID” on the back of your credit cards in permanent ink. Some people recommend putting tape over it to prevent it from being modified. And then make sure you bring your photo ID with you. Some people recommend signing, but then the thief can practice your signature and use it for other things.
Get your credit reports annually and review them carefully.
We hope you never need to use this blog post! Have you ever known anyone who was the victim of identity theft?