In the wired world of phishing scams, trojan horses, and data hacking, identity theft can happen to almost anyone, at any time. So it's extremely important to protect your personal information and to take certain steps quickly to minimize the potential damage from identity theft if your information is accidentally disclosed or deliberately stolen.
Here’s what the U.S. Federal Trade Commission recommends you do if it happens to you:
Place a "Fraud Alert" on your credit reports, and review those reports carefully. The alert tells creditors to follow certain procedures before they open new accounts in your name or make changes to your existing accounts. The three nationwide consumer reporting companies have toll-free numbers for placing an initial 90-day fraud alert; a call to one company is sufficient:
Placing a fraud alert entitles you to free copies of your credit reports. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain.
Close any accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. Call the security or fraud departments of each company where an account was opened or changed without your okay. Follow up in writing, with copies of supporting documents.
Use the ID Theft Affidavit to support your written statement. Then ask for verification that the disputed account has been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged. Keep copies of documents and records of your conversations.
File a police report with local law enforcement officials. This is an essential step in claiming your rights as a victim of identity theft.
Report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report helps law enforcement officials across the country in their investigations.
By phone: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338) or TTY, 1-866-653-4261
For a detailed guide on steps to take when your identity has been stolen, read Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft.