You can’t act too fast if identity is stolen

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November 03, 2017

Identity theft is one of the most aggravating and mystifying crimes out there. You don’t always know when the crime occurred, you’ll almost certainly never know who did it, and there’s no sure way to tell what the full ramifications will be.


Every step you take after the crime to restore your good name — not to mention finding the perpetrator — is arduous and redundant. The ultimate agony is that some of the companies you’ll contact to clear your name will suspect you of theft.


The thieves expend almost no energy to quickly steal your identity, and yet you spend weeks (or more) fighting your way back to a normal financial life, according to Laura Gross, Senior Communications Specialist with U.S. Bank’s Information Security Services.

Five Key Steps


If you believe your identity has been stolen, you need to act immediately — as in the moment you realize you’ve lost a bank card or notice something fishy on a financial statement. In that case, assume a theft has happened or is imminent.

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November 03, 2017

You also need to document everything, and take nothing for granted. Take these five steps for the best results:


STEP 1: Call the bank and other companies where fraud occurred


Contact U.S. Bank's Fraud Liaison Center at 877-595-6256, and let them know you’ve been a victim of identity theft. Also, call the fraud departments of any other financial companies where you do business.


Next, call the fraud department of any companies from which the thief has made purchases — keeping in mind that the companies you’re calling may suspect that a criminal is trying to hijack your accounts by pretending to be you calling about identity theft.


Gross recommends requesting written confirmation that the accounts were closed and that fraudulent transactions were canceled or at least are being investigated.


Immediately contact the fraud units of all other companies with which you have relationships. Act on discrepancies with these companies in the same manner as above.


If nothing has been touched, assume an attack is under way — change your passwords and PINs right away

STEP 2: Contact a credit agency to place a fraud alert


Next, contact a consumer credit-rating agency like Experian or TransUnion and ask them to place a fraud alert on your account; each agency is required by law to pass the alert to the other two.


This is the only time you will deal with just one of the rating agencies; after this, you must deal with each separately.


The alert requires businesses to take more stringent steps to verify the identity of anyone who subsequently applies for credit in your name. Alerts are free and valid for 90 days with one 90-day extension. There also is a free seven-year alert that comes with two free credit reports over the next 12 months. The credit agencies remove your name from marketing lists for prescreened – and thus, less secure – credit offers for five years.


Get letters from the agencies confirming the actions they’ve taken on your behalf. You can also lock down your credit reports and make it impossible for any organization to access them – even those to which you might be applying for credit.


Send a record of account closings, and charge corrections to the credit agencies.

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November 03, 2017

STEP 3: Report identity theft to the FTC


Call the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) at 1-877-438-4338 or follow the directions on the FTC’s website. As part of this process, you will create an “Identity Theft Affidavit” (don’t worry, you don’t need to be a lawyer, just follow the steps; the FTC makes it easy). Print the affidavit when you’re done. You’ll need it for the next step.


STEP 4: File a report with your local police department


Take your Identity Theft Affidavit to your local law-enforcement agency to report the incident, and get the police report. They won’t act without the affidavit, government-issued photo identification and proof of address (such as a utility bill). It’ll help to show other proof of the theft, such as financial statements showing fraudulent charges. 


STEP 5: Create your Identity Theft Report


Combine your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit with your police report to create an Identity Theft Report.

“Some or all of the people you deal with on significant financial matters — potentially for years — will want to see the report to be convinced that you are not, in fact, the identity thief who created the mess,” Gross says.

Before you catch your breath, contact your employer to have electronic paychecks redirected.


Remember that an ounce of prevention and preparation are worth a metric ton of cure. 


Here are four simple steps to reduce your risk of becoming a victim:


  1. Install software and app updates. When your phone or computer prompts you to update software, do so. Often, updates fix security vulnerabilities.


  2. Use strong passwords. Create passwords that are difficult to guess. Mix letters and symbols, and never use the same password on more than one site. If you’re having trouble remembering your passwords, consider password management software to create and store your passwords for you.


  3. Secure your network. Change the default password on your wireless router at home.


  4. Beware of phishing emails. Never click links or open attachments in emails from unknown senders.

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Financial Planning , Online Exclusive