Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it to take money out of your bank account, open credit accounts in your name, or receive benefits (such as employment, insurance or housing benefits). Identity theft can have a negative impact on your finances, as well as your credit. And it can happen to anyone, regardless of age or income.
Fortunately, there are many things you can do to protect yourself from identity theft and minimize the fallout if your personal or account information ever does get compromised. Read on to learn what steps you can take if you think your identity has been stolen or notice any fraudulent activity on any of your financial accounts.
Contacting Your Creditors
You’ll want to report any potentially fraudulent credit card activity to the creditor involved as quickly as possible. This can help stop any further fraudulent use of your card and also limit your liability for any unauthorized charges. There may be a phone number printed on the back of the card for this purpose.
You may also want to review the last few months of card statements carefully, identify any transactions you believe to be fraudulent, and write a follow-up letter to the credit card issuer with these details and copies of your statements.
There are federal protections provided to consumers in the case of credit card fraud. A consumer’s liability is limited to the lesser of $50 or the amount of the theft if the actual credit card was used fraudulently. If only the credit card number was used fraudulently, there is no consumer liability.
For debit card or ATM card fraud, the quicker you report the card loss, the less they are potentially liable for. If you report a missing debit or ATM card before any unauthorized charges are made, you’ll have zero liability. The amounts increase the longer the missing card goes unreported.
• Maximum loss is $50 if the card is reported within two business days of the loss or theft.
• Maximum loss is $500 if the loss or theft is reported more than two business days, but less than 60 calendar days after the account statement is sent to the account holder.
• If the loss is reported more than 60 calendar days after the statement is sent, you can be responsible for all the money taken from your account. If money from linked accounts was also stolen, the maximum loss can be more than the account balance.
• If the ATM or debit card number, but not the physical card, was used to make unauthorized charges, the account holder is not liable for those charges if the fraud is reported within 60 days of the account statement being sent.
Recommended: Different Types of Bank Account Fraud
Reporting Identity Fraud to the FTC
If you think your social security number or other important personal information has been stolen and used fraudulently, you’ll want to report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) online at IdentityTheft.gov.
Once you create an account and file an identity theft report, you’ll receive a personalized recovery plan with tools like form letters to send to credit bureaus. The site also allows you to update your identity theft account and track your progress. If you were affected by a company-specific data breach, you can get advice from the FTC on how to protect yourself.
When you file an identity theft report, you’ll also get an FTC identity theft affidavit that you can print out and retain it for your records. You may need this affidavit if you file a police report. Banks and credit card companies may also request a copy of this FTC report.
Consider Filing a Police Report
If you believe you know who was responsible for the fraudulent activity, or can provide evidence for an investigation, you may want to file a police report. Filing a police report might also be necessary if a creditor requires the report as part of its investigation. Having a police report can also be helpful when requesting an extended fraud alert on your credit reports (more on that below).
Recommended: How Credit Card Frauds Are Investigated and Caught
Notifying Credit Bureaus
You may also want to contact one of the three credit major consumer bureaus, Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax, and ask them to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This notifies lenders that you’ve been a victim of identity theft so they can take extra measures to verify your identity when they get an application for credit in your name. Contacting just one of the credit bureaus is fine — that bureau will contact the other two automatically.
Fraud alerts are free. If you have a police report or a FTC Identity Theft Report, you may be able to get a free extended fraud alert, which lasts seven years.
You can also request a freeze or lock on your credit report by contacting each credit bureau individually. Putting a freeze on a credit report blocks all access to the report, making it more difficult for a bad actor to use information fraudulently. Credit freezes are regulated by state laws, and credit bureaus are required to offer credit freezes at no charge. A credit lock also acts to protect your financial information from potential identity thieves, but is a program offered by an individual company, which may charge a monthly fee for the service. Credit locks are not regulated by state laws.
Disputing Errors Caused by Identity Theft
Whether you’ve been a victim of identity theft or not, it’s a good idea to periodically request copies of your credit report and read them carefully, checking for any errors or evidence of fraud.
Having misinformation on your reports can have a negative impact on your credit, making it harder for you to qualify for credit cards, mortgages, and personal loans with favorable terms.
Federal law allows consumers to request a credit report at no charge from each of the three credit bureaus annually. As a result of the coronavirus pandemic, however, the credit bureaus have been offering free weekly credit reports through AnnualCreditReport.com and will continue to do so until the end of 2023.
If you notice an error on a credit report, you can contact that credit bureau to file a dispute. All three major credit bureaus provide information on their websites for filing a dispute. It can take up to 30 days for the results of any investigation to be made available.
There’s a lot you can do to keep your personal information and financial accounts safe, such as opting for two-factor (or multi-factor) authentication in order to access your bank and credit accounts online. If you receive a notification from a creditor of a failed login attempt, it’s a good idea to change your password.
If any of your personal or financial account information does get stolen and used fraudulently, however, there’s no reason to panic. If you report the fraudulent transaction to the appropriate financial institution quickly, you likely won’t be responsible for the charge or loss. You can also help stop any further fraud by locking or freezing your credit, filing an identity theft report with the FTC, and filing a police report.
If you’re thinking about applying for an online personal loan but are hesitant to share your information, know that SoFi takes the privacy and security of its members’ financial and personal information very seriously. We maintain industry-standard technical and physical safeguards designed to protect your information’s confidentiality and integrity. Also keep in mind that checking your personal rate won’t affect your credit.
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