Fraud Victim? Fight Back!
About 18 months ago, my personal information was stolen. I’d done business with a company and their computers were hacked. My name, address, date of birth and Social Security Number were among the data that was stolen.
So far the criminals have gotten about $500 in cash using my data. Fortunately, most of their fraudulent credit applications were flagged, and they haven’t gotten more money. Unfortunately, the experience has taught me that U.S. data protection laws don’t do much to protect victims. The police took my report, but didn’t seem to care about my case because it only involved a few hundred dollars. And the company that stored my data on an insecure computer is under no obligation to reimburse me for the time and money I’ve spent dealing with the problem.
This week is National Fraud Awareness Week. I certainly became aware of the problem after I became a victim. I hope you can take the necessary precautions to avoid becoming a fraud victim. But if you do fall victim to fraud, it’s important to know what tools are available to help you fight back.
Three tools can help you prevent or recover from identity theft: Fraud alerts, fraud reports and credit freezes.
Fraud alerts, which are attached to your credit report, request that potential creditors verify your identification before they extend credit in your name. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening accounts using your data. I have fraud alerts placed on my credit reports with the major credit reporting agencies, and they’ve worked. On several occasions creditors have contacted me (via phone and mail) to ask whether I’ve applied for credit. In every instance, I told them that I was a victim of identify theft and hadn’t applied for credit. The criminals couldn’t get new credit in my name.
To get a 90-day fraud alert placed on your credit report, contact one of the credit reporting agencies, and they’ll contact the other agencies to place an alert on your file.
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- Experian: 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
A fraud report, also known as an identity theft report, is a version of a police report. You can use the fraud report to help block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report.
Did you know that credit inquiries lower your credit score? Every time a criminal applies for credit in my name–even if the application is denied because it’s fraudulent–that credit inquiry hurts my credit score. Each time I learn that someone has fraudulently tried to obtain credit in my name, I contact the credit bureaus, provide them with a copy of the fraud report (if necessary) and request that they remove the fraudulent credit inquiry from my credit report. In some instances, I’ve had to provide a copy of the report to creditors that unknowingly extended credit in my name and gave money to the identify thieves. After seeing the fraud report, they closed the collections file and stopped asking me to repay the debt. You can also send a copy of the fraud report to the credit-reporting agencies and ask them to place a 7-year fraud victim alert on your credit report.
A credit freeze locks access to your credit file so that no one may open up a new account or get new credit in your name. Credit freezes are one of the best ways to keep thieves from obtaining credit in your name. The downside is that they’ll also require you to take some extra steps before you legitimately apply for credit.
The data is locked at the credit reporting agencies until you give permission for the release of the data. The credit bureaus may charge you to place a freeze on your credit reports, and you will need to contact each company separately. There may also be a charge to unfreeze your account, which you will need to do if you want to apply for credit. You won’t be able to get a credit card, car loan or mortgage until you unfreeze your credit reports, and you may need to wait up to three days to get all of your credit reports unfrozen.