Security breaches and stolen identities are becoming more and more common, with 16.7 million Americans becoming victims of identity fraud in 2017.1 From fraudulent account charges to massive credit leaks, acts of theft can happen in an instant—even if you have safety measures in place.
Learning your personal information has been compromised, however, doesn’t mean you’ve lost control. Take action early to make sure you’re able to bounce back quickly.
First things first: Start with these simple and immediate steps.
- Alert your bank: Get in touch with your bank right away. Explain the situation so you can get help with taking the right next steps.
- Change your passwords: Not just your online banking and email passwords, but also anywhere you might have repeated the same username or password.
- Get a new card (if need be): If there is a fraudulent charge on your card, then it might be best to just get a new one. When you call your bank, they should be able to cancel your card and issue you a replacement.
Depending on the severity of the compromise, here are a few other steps you can take to make sure your credit history stays safe:
1. Set a fraud alert
Fraud alerts are free and can help prevent someone else from opening a new account under your name. You will still have access to your credit, but the credit bureaus (Experian, TransUnion and Equifax—contact info below) will help keep a closer eye on your activity.
Victims of past fraud may be at an increased risk of future fraud. 1.5 million victims of existing account fraud had a new fraudulent account opened in their name in 2017.1
There are three types of fraud alerts: Initial Fraud Alerts, Extended Fraud Alerts and Active Duty Alerts. An Initial Fraud Alert is the most common and doesn’t require prerequisites to be put in place. It can help protect you and will stay active for 90 days.2 After 90 days, the Initial Fraud Alert will be removed, but you can reactivate as many times as you’d like.
To set up an Initial Fraud Alert (or any type of fraud alert) reach out to one of the three credit bureaus below. The one you contact will be responsible for notifying the other two. To set up a fraud alert:
- Experian: Call 888-397-3742 or go online
- TransUnion: Call 800-680-7289 or go online
- Equifax: Call 888-766-0008 or go online
2. Review your credit report
If you notice any activity that shouldn’t be on your bank statements, it’s worth taking a look at your credit report, which contains both current information and your longer credit history.
15 percent of new-account fraud victims discovered the fraud by reviewing their credit report.3
If you place a fraud alert, you will be provided with a free copy of your credit report by all three credit bureaus. But you don’t have to set an alert to see your report, as you are entitled to a free copy every 12 months.4
Regularly checking your credit report for fraudulent activity is a great habit to get into. Any mistakes or erroneous activity can be contested and removed from your report, helping to protect your credit history.
3. Freeze your credit (once you’ve exhausted other options)
Freezing your credit means third parties will not be able to access your credit report. A freeze can prevent potential thieves from using your personal information to open new accounts or conduct transactions that call for a credit check in your name.5
Be aware that a freeze is a more extreme action to take, and would place some restrictions on your own access, as well. For example, if you are seeking any new loans or credit lines (from a mortgage to credit cards), looking to open a new deposit account, or even interviewing for a new job, a potential lender or employer may require a credit check. Having your credit frozen could get in the way of this process. And while you can certainly lift your credit freeze, there may be delays or additional approval processes.5
You will need to contact all three major credit bureaus when placing a freeze on your credit, or when lifting it. There will also be a small fee associated with the process. To place a freeze on your credit:
- Experian: Call 888‑397‑3742 or go online
- TransUnion: Call 888-909-8872 or go online
- Equifax: Call 800-349-9960 or go online
While identity theft can be an alarming situation, there are steps you can take to stay in control and stay financially confident.