The worst thing imaginable to your credit has happened: someone has stolen your identity. You’re hurt, you’re angry and you’re shaken, so what do you do now? Keeping a cool head in the face of crisis is key to repairing damage done by a credit thief. It allows you to tackle the problem and minimize the harm done to your credit score. Here are three things you must do if the credit thieves get to you.
Report The Fraud
First, once the fraud is discovered, you’ll need to call each of the major credit bureaus and report it immediately. Ask that a fraud alert is placed on your profile and that no new lines of credit are permitted without your approval. You’ll need to make a statement in writing of the fraud and provide any documents you have to support it, such as bank statements, credit card statements, etc. If possible, include the name and location of stores where fraudulent purchases were made. This is especially helpful if the illegal actions happened several states away. Showing a purchase made at a California Walmart and a purchase made at a North Carolina Walmart on the same day is proof positive that something fishy was going on.
Cut The Thief Off
You’ll also want to immediately close or freeze accounts that were fraudulently opened or accessed. To do this, call the credit lender and speak with their fraud department. Many credit cards have specialized agents to handle cases of fraud. They will freeze the accounts and prevent the thief from making any more purchases. If the activity occurred on one of your regular cards, odds are that your account number will be changed and a new card will be issued.
Many lenders have a task force of agents that can look into each individual case. These detectives can be invaluable in helping you gather hard evidence of the fraud, so make sure to give them as much information as possible. Often, the thief doesn’t get caught, but if he does, you can use the evidence gathered to prosecute him.
Write down the events along with account numbers, locations, purchase amounts and any other important information you can think of. Keep track of who you talk to and when. Having a written account of everything that happens will help keep you organized and make it easy to remember what steps were taken and when.
You’ll want to follow up on any investigations that are launched or any actions that are promised to make sure everyone follows through. Most importantly, learn from your mistakes. If you can figure out how the identity thief got your information, you can correct the situation and prevent yourself from being victimized again.