Identity theft has topped the list of consumer complaints filed with the FTC for 13 consecutive years and there’s no evidence that this year it won’t make the list for the 14th. Just how many victims of identity theft are there each year? While we don’t yet have the figures for 2013, a Javeline report puts the numbers from 2012 at 12.6 million.
This post originally appeared on Credit Sesame.
Factor in the more than 70 million Americans impacted by the recent Target and Niemen Marcus data breaches, and it’s clear why identity theft is a major concern for many Americans.
Identity theft takes many forms. Some of the most common include:
- Credit card fraud
- False applications for new credit
- Fraudulent withdrawals from a bank account
- Fraudulent use of telephone calling cards
- Fraudulent use of an IP address in order to engage in illegal acts online
- Fraudulent use of medical care
- Social security fraud (for tax and employment fraud)
If you know or suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, there are steps you should take immediately to stop the theft and minimize the damage.
Put a Security Freeze on Your Credit Report
Be sure to request a copy of your credit report from each agency (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion). If you find fraudulent items on your credit report(s), the simplest way to begin the dispute process is to click the item while viewing your credit report online. The agency will tell you what steps to take next.
With a security freeze in place, no one can obtain new credit in your name. New applications will be automatically denied. Each agency has a procedure for temporarily "thawing" your file in order to allow a legitimate application to be processed.
Contact Any Institution Directly Affected
For example, if you know your credit card was stolen, report the theft to the credit card issuer. If your checkbook was stolen, contact your bank.
For this step it’s really helpful if you’ve prepared a list of institutions and phone numbers in advance. You don’t have to write account numbers down on the list–that would be just one more way for a thief to gain access to your personal information. But do keep a list of what’s in your wallet, along with the contact information for each item.
Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
File an Identity Theft Affidavit and create an Identity Theft Report. You can file your report online, by phone (toll-free): 1-877-ID THEFT (877-438-4338); TDD (toll-free): 1-866-653-4261, or by mail—600 Pennsylvania Ave., Washington DC 20580.
The FTC will provide you with information about what to do next, depending on what type of fraud was (or may have been) committed.
File a Police Report
To complete the Identity Theft Report, you’ll need to contact your local law enforcement office and report the theft. Be sure to get a copy of the police report and/or the report number. Both your police report and the FTC Identity Theft Affidavit combine to create your Identity Theft Report. Your Identity Theft Report will help you when working with the credit reporting agencies or any other companies the identity their may have used to open accounts in your name.
Protect Your Social Security Number
It’s important to talk to the SSA if you have reason to believe your social security number has been compromised, even if you don’t yet see any evidence of financial fraud. A thief could be planning to swipe your tax refund, or to obtain employment in your name.
In addition to these five steps, if you have reason to believe the identity thief may have submitted a fraudulent change-of-address to the post office or has used the U.S. mail to commit the fraud against you, contact the Postal Inspection Service, which is the law enforcement and security branch of the post office. Fill out the online form.
For more information about how to prevent or recover from identity theft, the U.S. Department of Justice and the Federal Trade Commission offer a wealth of information and will walk you through the steps.
Kimberly Rotter is a writer, businesswoman, and mother in San Diego, CA. She holds a Bachelor’s degree in English, a Master’s degree in Business Administration, and a Graduate Certificate in Distance Education. Kim and her husband own two homes, a couple of vehicles, and a few investments, and they live with minimal debt. Both are successfully self-employed, each in their own field. Learn more at RotterWrites.com.
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