So you’ve handed over your Social Security number, credit card information, and your mother’s maiden name to an unknown Nigerian Prince that promised you riches beyond your wildest dreams? Perhaps you’ve handed over your user name and password to unknown parties after arriving at a site that looked exactly like PayPal, your bank, or some other financial institution you do business with? It happens to the best of us. Scammers can be found all over the Internet and some of them even call you on the phone in an effort to legitimize the scandal. Banks and other institutions may even have their databases hacked, giving your personal information to parties unknown.
Note: The information provided below is intended for informational use only and should not be considered legal or financial advice.
In any case, when your personal information has been compromised, it’s important to act fast in order to minimize the damage. There are five steps you should take the moment you realize your information is out there. These steps include:
- Filing an initial fraud report with the three major credit reporting agencies.
- Canceling active credit cards and having replacements sent out with different numbers
- Contacting government agencies that issued any compromised IDs for replacements and having your file flagged.
- Getting a current credit report from the three major credit reporting agencies (free during fraud alerts).
- Monitoring financial accounts closely and scrutinizing any unrecognized expenditures.
Filing an Initial Fraud Report
Filing an initial fraud report with the three major credit reporting agencies (TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian) will place a flag on your credit for 90 days alerting anyone pulling your credit report to potential fraud. This will keep someone from getting a new credit card in your name, or facilitating a large purchase such as a car or house. In addition, it will protect your credit score from inquiries made by fraudulent means.
This 90-day hold will disappear from your account after 90 days and should not have any lasting influence on your ability to receive credit. Should you extend this flag, the report stays on your credit for seven years. This can have a lasting impact on your financial life, though it will prevent someone from destroying your credit should you be the victim of credit fraud. This step is generally only recommended if you have been a victim, and not so much if your information has been compromised.
To make your life easier, all three of these agencies automatically forward a fraud flag to the others in the list. This means you only have to file the flag once for all three. Here are the links you’ll need to file these reports.
Canceling Active Credit Cards
If you have a credit card that may have been compromised, you should report this to your bank right away and request that the card be canceled and a replacement issued. This will put a stop to any fraud that may take place on the card at that very moment. In addition, you may want to put a password on your account so that no one but you can call the bank and request action on your account.
This should not result in fees, but it could depending on your bank. Canceling your card doesn’t mean canceling your account. It simply means the card currently in your wallet will no longer be used. You may need to change your payment method on file with any companies that you currently do business with to avoid lapsing on your payments with them.
Contact Government Agencies
One of the scariest dangers of having your information compromised is having someone (other than yourself) with enough information to get a copy of your birth certificate, driver’s license, or even your Social Security card. This would be all someone needs to steal your identity and get you into all sorts of trouble. One way around this is to contact the issuing agencies and inform them of the situation. This will place a flag on your file, making it harder for someone to get a copy of your important documents.
Get a Current Credit Report and Watch Your Financial Statements
Upon placing a 90-day initial fraud report with the three major credit reporting companies out there, you are entitled to receive a free credit report from these companies. This will give you a snapshot view of your current financial situation including any outstanding and active accounts you might have open.
Make note of any accounts that are unrecognized or otherwise suspicious. If something appears to be fraudulent, you can file a dispute with the reporting agency and that will begin the claims process. Identity theft is a serious problem, and overcoming this type of fraud can take months, or even years. Being vigilant is the key to resolving fraud faster. The sooner you report, the quicker the problem can go away.
If you’ve been a victim, you may also want to take the measure of filing a report with the police and Federal Trade Commission. This will enable authorities to act on the case and perhaps even bring the people responsible to justice. In any case, it’ll certainly improve your chances of protecting your financial and legal standing as you dispute any fraudulent activity on your accounts.