Problem: Your identity has been stolen!
Likely Cause: You'll probably never know. Your credit report was illegally pulled, or your Social Security, credit card, or ATM number was scammed.
The Fix: Take these steps as soon as possible. (This section includes tips from the Federal Trade Commission.)
- Cancel ATM/credit cards and report the issue to your credit card companies; request new account numbers if necessary. Change all PINs (even on new cards). Banks and credit card companies require notice in writing of any compromised accounts; you can use the FTC's fraud affidavit to provide that notice.
- Change the passwords to all your financial-institution Web sites.
- Explain the situation to the fraud department at each of the three credit reporting agencies: Equifax, 866/640-2273), Experian, 800/493-1058), and TransUnion, 800/916-8800). File forms as required.
- Examine your credit report (each agency will provide a copy) for illegal or inaccurate listings. File forms disputing the reports as appropriate.
- File a police report locally or where the theft took place (if you know). Ask for copies of the report; you'll need to send it to credit agencies, and you should keep one, as well.
- File an ID theft complaint with the FTC. You can do so online via its Complaint Input Form.
How to Avoid It Next Time: You can get one credit report free per year per credit agency; try checking one report every four months for timely monitoring. Use strong passwords and PINs (for tips on creating strong passwords, see the Privacy Watch column, "E@4#N or E@4#W? How to Remember Strong Passwords"). Don't share your Social Security number if possible. Consider limiting the business you do on the Web to sites you've vetted.