If you haven’t frozen your credit in the wake of the recent Equifax data breach, you’re exposing yourself to identity theft, which could lead to, among other bad outcomes, credit card fraud.
But it’s not too late to protect yourself, even if you’ve discovered a crook has opened a new credit card in your name. First, though, you have to find the fraud. Check your credit reports for any unauthorized accounts.
If you find one, here are eight steps you should take immediately.
Report fraud to the credit card company
Call the bank where you suspect the fraud took place and explain that your identity was stolen. Each company has a fraud department you can contact. Ask them to freeze the accounts so no other charges may be made.
You may need to return to the issuer after reporting the fraud to the government to provide documentation before it will close the account.
Freeze your credit reports
The Federal Trade Commission recommends placing a free, 90-day credit fraud alert on your accounts through one of the three credit bureaus. However, this won’t prevent new accounts from being opened.
A fraud alert simply lets lenders know there’s an issue, prompting them to take extra precautions, such as confirming identity through secret questions. The problem here is that cyber thieves might have access to this information, as well.
With just a basic search on social media sites, it may not be hard to get information like your mother’s maiden name, for instance.
A more secure option is to place a freeze on your credit reports. A credit freeze prohibits credit reporting agencies from releasing your data. Most creditors, with the exception of some utility companies and cell phone carriers, won’t extend new lines of credit without a credit report.
Report fraud to the FTC
Filing a fraud report with the FTC creates an official record of fraudulent activity under your name. List all of the businesses that opened accounts without your consent in this report. This is an important record to have moving forward.
An FTC report not only documents your claims but it also guarantees certain rights, such as stopping debt collectors from contacting you for payment on fraudulent accounts.
File a police report
This may be a necessary step required by the credit card company. Request a copy of the police report.
Close your accounts
It’s up to you to close all fraudulent accounts. Start by calling back the credit card company’s fraud department ask it to close your account. Next, be sure to request a letter confirming that:
- The account is closed.
- You are not liable for charges.
- The account was removed from your credit report.
This letter can be useful if these accounts end up on your credit report later.
Some issuers might ask for a copy of your FTC report in order to prove that the account was created illegally.
Clean up your credit report
Flag any illegal activity so that the credit-reporting agencies can remove them from your reports. This can be time-consuming, but it’s worth it. Be sure to check back every few months to make sure there’s no other suspicious activity on your reports and that all fraudulent accounts have been removed.
Notify debt collectors
If you receive letters or phone calls from debt collectors, notify them in writing that your identity was stolen. You might also want to send a copy of your FTC report and any other evidence. If it persists, call the business where the debt originated and find out the status of the account. If the account has not been flagged as fraudulent, send them the FTC report, as well.
Change your PINs and passwords
One of the main defenses against hackers is your password or PIN number. If your identity has been stolen, it’s important to update all of your account passwords and PINs, including email and social media accounts.
Be sure to create PINs and passwords that are easy to remember, but hard to guess. PINs, or personal identification numbers, are made up only of numbers. Avoid birthdays of immediate family members as they can easily be associated with you; also avoid sequences like 1, 2, 3, 4.