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.
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:
Check your credit card statements. You should look for:
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.
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
Before you add a fraud alert to your credit report, be aware of these effects:
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.