Realizing someone has falsely used your identity to open a credit card is certain to leave you feeling helpless and worried. By the time you find out there has been unauthorized activity, your credit score may have already taken a huge hit. You'll need to take the right actions immediately to convince your creditors you didn't make those charges and to restore your credit.
Contact the credit card issuing company right away to end or limit the crook's shopping spree. You'll need to complete the Identity Theft Victim's Complaint and Affidavit found on the FTC website. Be prepared to answer a series of questions to prove you did not authorize the charges or give someone permission to use your name. Provide as much information as possible about how the crime took place. Try to recall if you left your wallet somewhere, or if you gave personal information over the phone or Internet.
Call the police department where the theft took place and file a theft report. This is for your benefit when you deal with the credit card companies. Because some people cry fraud to get out of paying for their own charges, they want as much proof as possible that a real crime took place. That usually means they will want to see the kind of official documents best provided by the police. Request a copy of the police report or the report number to pass on to the credit card company.
Ask the credit card company to send you any documents associated with the account, such as the application and transactions. If you have an idea of who the impersonator might be, the spending pattern or signature may help confirm your suspicions. Even if the credit card company is not willing to give you the information, don't worry. The investigator assigned to your case will subpoena the company for all the necessary documents.
Call the ID Theft Clearinghouse at 877-ID-THEFT (877-438-4338). Counselors take complaints and offer advice on how to clean up the credit mess. Once the information is received, the FTC will pass it on to the law enforcement officers who will try to track down the culprit.
Check your credit reports on Equifax, Experian and TransUnion for any charges you didn't make. As annoying as those bands are in those credit report TV ads, they are saying something useful; you do need to check your credit scores on a regular basis, and especially in the wake of a possible identity theft. Call each bureau, let them know the situation, and get a fraud alert placed on your account. The alert means anyone wanting to open any account under that name will have to prove he's you.
- You can take precautions now to prevent future theft. Change passwords on all your current accounts, and shred bank statements, receipts, and any other documents that contain your personal information. Continue monitoring your credit report on an annual basis.
Jeannine Mancini, a Florida native, has been writing business and personal finance articles since 2003. Her articles have been published in the Florida Today and Orlando Sentinel. She earned a Bachelor of Science in Interdisciplinary Studies from the University of Central Florida.