Over the past few years, identity theft has become increasingly more common. Identity theft can make your life a lot more difficult.
Aside from the obvious problem of someone charging, sometimes thousands of dollars to your credit card accounts which you could very well remain on the hook for, identity theft can easily wreck your credit for years to come. So, how do you pick up the pieces and rebuild your credit after someone steals your identity? In this article, I will explain some ways you can overcome and move on after an identity thief strikes.
Clues Someone has Stolen your Identity
There are clues you will find to let you know that you are a victim of identity theft, they include:
- You find withdrawals from your bank account that you do not remember making or can’t find proof you made them.
- Your bills or other mail stops coming to your home.
- Your checks begin to bounce (returned for insufficient funds).
- You begin receiving calls from debt collectors for debts you do not recognize.
- You find accounts or charges you are not familiar with on your credit report.
- You receive bills from medical providers for services you did not have performed.
- Your legitimate medical claim is rejected because records show you have reached your benefits limit.
- A health plan will not provide you coverage because their records show you have a condition you know you do not have.
- The IRS sends you a notification more than one tax return was filed under your name, or you have income from an employer you do not work for.
- You receive notification from a credit protection company your information was compromised.
What to do when you first notice your identity was stolen
Watching out for identity theft is one reason to check your credit report on a regular basis. As soon as you notice signs there may be an issue with your credit report you need to act quickly before the problem becomes even worse. The first thing you should do is to contact the credit card companies with the questionable charges immediately and shut down all of the affected cards. Most credit card companies and banks will not hold you responsible for the fraudulent activity when you report the theft quickly. You will still have to dispute the charges to the accounts Quick action will prevent this issue from becoming larger and may also lead to the thief being caught.
Report the theft
Next, you will want to report the identity theft to everyone concerned, by creating an Identity Theft Report. Send this report to all the businesses, banks, creditors, and the credit card reporting agencies to clear yourself of all fraudulent and inaccurate information. Report the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting identitytheft.gov and submitting an affidavit. You can also contact the FTC by phone at 877-438-4338 then fill out and file their identity theft report and affidavit. Next, go to your local police station with your FTC affidavit and file a police report. Make sure you receive a copy of the police report along with your FTC affidavit and any other information you can gather. You will want to send copies of all of this information to your creditors, banks and any other business that was included in the theft, so it is easier to clear your name and your credit report.
Monitor your credit record
Monitoring your credit record should be something you do every couple of months. However, it is especially important to follow your credit report after you have been the victim of identity theft. The most important reason for closely watching your credit report is to make sure there is not any more fraudulent activity to your accounts. However, just as important, you will need to monitor your credit report to see how you are progressing with rebuilding your credit as you move forward and put this situation behind you.
Putting the pieces back together
Repairing the damage done for the victim of identity theft can be a long and frustrating experience, especially for people who have practiced careful credit management all their lives. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates the recovery time from identity theft can take victims an average of 6 months and a couple of hundred hours of working the telephone, filing claims and monitoring creditors, responding to letters, working with credit bureaus and law enforcement and more. However, if you are a person who has used their credit wisely, earned an excellent credit rating and established a long history of responsible credit management, you may have an easier time reestablishing your credit rating than when you were trying to build your credit. Your history of responsible credit management will also go a long way toward proving that the recent careless credit card use is not one of your characteristics at all.
Rebuilding your credit
After becoming a victim of identity theft, your credit report will, most likely, be a disaster. However, unfortunately, the damage will go much deeper than having a hard time opening a new credit card. You also need to consider the fact your credit rating is also critical when applying for a job, insuring your vehicle and many other crucial financial transactions. This makes reestablishing your credit rating essential.
Some thoughts for getting your financial life back in order include:
It may be wise to hang on to the credit cards you had when you maintained careful credit management, rather than attempting to open a new card any time soon. Your current lenders will already know your history of credit management and be more accepting. If you do need to apply for a new credit card; try to stay away from some of the options you chose when you were starting out. These include secured credit cards, cards with high-interest rates focused on people with no credit or any of these other options because they will wind up costing you more in the long run. If you can prove you were the victim of identity theft and that you had stellar credit management practices before the crime, you should be able to come out the other side in relatively good shape.
Being a victim of identity theft after spending years working hard to create an excellent credit history is a real shame. However, before it ever comes to that, you should diligently guard against it with common sense. Use long, somewhat complicated passwords for your accounts. Don’t use the same password for all of your accounts and make sure they are not easy to figure out, like your birthday or some other simple date or name. Keep your essential documents, like your social security number safe. Moreover, most of all, monitor your credit report often, so if you see something questionable, you can react quickly.