Identity Protection Resources: How to be Proactive

According to the 2003 FTC Report about identity theft, the cost to the victim (out of pocket expense, and time to resolve the issues) is substantially smaller if the fraud or misuse is discovered quickly (within 5 months). One simple method to make this timeframe the smallest is to monitor your credit activity.

To request a free copy of your credit report

The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) requires the three nationwide consumer credit reporting companies to provide consumers with one free copy of your credit report, once each 12 months. By using the Federal Trade Commission website, you can obtain a credit report 3 times per year (once each from the three agencies). The brochure, Your Access to Free Credit Reports, explains consumer rights under the FCRA.

The consumer credit reporting companies may contain numerous offers for credit reporting, monitoring, etc. These are not the free reports. Only the FTC has the free report website.

To order a free report, visit www.annualcreditreport.com and you can complete it online. You can also call 1-877-322-8228, or by mail by completing the Annual Credit Report Request form.

You should look for:

  • Unfamiliar accounts, especially ones that have been newly opened.
  • Incorrect addresses or phone numbers.

Check your credit card statements. You should look for:

  • Unauthorized charges, often in a different geographic area from where you reside or normally shop

If you become a victim of identity theft

If you find evidence of identity theft on your credit reports, the most sound advice is to follow the steps provided by the Federal Trade Commission's Identity Theft site. This site also provides excellent resources in the deterrence of identity theft. Additional actions that may be useful are:

If you discover misuse of your Social Security number, call the Social Security Fraud Hot line at 800-269-0271. You can also check out the resources at the Social Security Administration's site http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/idtheft.htm

It is strongly advised that you keep a detailed record of communications, including dates, with credit bureaus, creditors, financial institutions and police.

How to place a fraud alert

If you have received notice that your personal information may have been disclosed, you are advised to place a "fraud alert" on your credit file with one of the three major credit bureaus. This is a free service that will require creditors to verify your identity before opening a new account, and may hinder fraudulent requests. Typically, they will need to contact you by phone at a designated number before opening a new account.

You may place an Initial 90-day Fraud Alert by calling any one of the three nationwide credit-reporting companies. The length of time that an alert stays on your record varies for each credit bureau. You can request an extension when the initial period has ended.

The agency that accepts your request will share your request with the other two credit reporting companies, which will add the alert to your file or request that you provide them additional information. Experian allows you to file a fraud alert online or by telephone; Equifax and Trans Union require you to call. You will receive a confirmation when an alert is added to your file.

Choose to contact one of three major credit bureaus

Consider these facts about fraud alerts

Before you add a fraud alert to your credit report, be aware of these effects:

  • You may be asked to provide proof of your identification when applying for instant credit. In some cases, the presence of a fraud alert may limit your ability to receive instant credit for in-store purchases that you plan to take possession of immediately.
  • Creditors may contact you by phone at a designated number before opening a new account. A fraud alert should not interfere with the daily use of credit cards or banking or checking accounts.
  • Some banks will re-issue debit cards and credit cards, affecting automatic withdrawls.

If you are not sure, Take a few minutes to browse the material provided at the US Department of Justice resource page on Identity Theft and Fraud.