It’s unfortunate but true: identity theft is on the rise. With many of us turning our attention to the digital world during the recent pandemic, more identity thieves than ever have been hijacking people’s identities through online theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), identity theft reports jumped to about 1.4 million in 2020, more than twice the number from the prior year.
In other words, if you’re a victim of identity fraud, you’re in good company—though it may not make you feel better about your situation. After all, what should you do about fraudulent charges on your account, and how can you reclaim your identity? Here’s everything you should know about what to do if someone steals your identity.
If You Have Identity Theft Insurance, File a Claim
Major companies like LifeLock offer identity theft protection plans that offer assistance if your identity is stolen. You may have this type of policy bundled into your insurance or through your employer. If you do have this type of insurance policy, contact them as soon as possible for expert help.
Notify Your Bank or Creditor
If you see fraudulent charges on any financial account, your first step should be to contact your bank or creditor.
If the charge is on a credit card, you’re in luck: most cards protect cardholders against identity theft through zero-liability policies. Even if your card doesn’t offer this protection, you’re still covered under the Fair Credit Billing Act. Through this federal law, your liability limit for fraudulent charges is $50.
If the charge is on a debit card, things can get trickier. You’ll have only two business days to report unauthorized charges for a liability limit of $50. Between two and 60 days, your liability is $500, and beyond 60 days there are no limits on your liability.
File a Report With the Police
The police may not be able to help you find the person who stole your identity, especially for identity theft that has taken place online. However, filing a police report is always a smart move.
An official report documents the identity theft, allowing you to point to the report if and when you need to prove that the theft occurred. Be sure to give this information to your bank or creditor once you have it.
Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
The last thing you want to do is allow your credit to suffer due to fraudulent charges.
To protect yourself, contact any of the three major credit reporting agencies. You’ll find specific contact details for reporting fraud on their website, and it’s free to request a fraud alert. When you report identity theft to any credit bureau, they are required to share the request with the others.
This allows you to protect your credit from further damage across the board. Fraud alerts make it difficult for someone with your personal information to open accounts in your name. Any lender or business issuing credit in your name will have to contact you first, meaning that you’ll know right away if someone is trying to use your stolen identity details.
A fraud alert will remain on your report for a year, but you can always contact one of the credit bureaus to renew it if you prefer. You can also request an extended fraud alert that lasts seven years.
Freeze Your Credit
In some cases, it may be a good idea to also place a freeze on your credit report. A credit freeze is different from a fraud alert: it means that credit bureaus will not share your report with anyone who asks for it.
The process for this is more complex than the fraud alert process, though it’s still free. You’ll need to contact each of the three credit bureaus to request a freeze.
File a Report With the FTC
The FTC can’t pursue criminal charges on your behalf, but it’s still a good idea to file a report all the same. Law enforcement agencies may use the FTC’s information to track down identity thieves, and the more information they can use to do so, the better. The reporting process is simple, and you’ll come away with a recovery plan you can use to help you move forward.
Secure Your Accounts
Even once your identity is stolen, it’s still important to secure your accounts after the fact. Change your passwords to strong, complex options, and consider using a password manager to generate random passwords that are impossible to guess.
You may also want to consider signing up for credit monitoring. Credit monitoring plans will keep an eye on your bank and retirement accounts, and they will reimburse you any stolen money.
Contact a Lawyer
In some identity theft situations, you may want to consider filing a lawsuit.
This can be a smart move if you believe that a business or financial institution that had access to your personal information didn’t do a good job of protecting it. It can also be a good idea if you’re struggling to persuade your creditor or reporting agency to fulfill their legal obligations to you.
In cases like these, you’ll have to reach out to experts in identity theft, such as the team at Financialjusticenow.com. These professionals can help you navigate your options to get the financial compensation you deserve.
Know What to Do if Someone Steals Your Identity
Though it can feel hard to protect yourself after the fact, it’s crucial to know what to do if someone steals your identity. In some cases, acting fast can help protect you from unlimited liability for fraudulent charges. It can also help you get back on your feet as you work to secure your accounts and personal information.
Looking for more essential guides like this one? Be sure to check out our other posts for more crucial life tips!