Identity theft takes many forms. Some of the most common include:

  • Credit card fraud
  • False applications for new credit
  • Fraudulent withdrawals from a bank account
  • Fraudulent use of telephone calling cards
  • Fraudulent use of an IP address in order to engage in illegal acts online
  • Fraudulent use of medical care
  • Social security fraud (for tax and employment fraud)

If you know or suspect that you are the victim of identity theft, there are steps you should take immediately to stop the theft and minimize the damage.

Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report

A fraud alert puts a red flag on your credit report and notifies lenders and creditors that they should take extra steps to verify your identity before extending credit. To place a 90-day fraud alert on all three of your credit reports, you only need to contact one of the three credit reporting agencies (Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion). When you place the initial alert, they will automatically notify the other two agencies for you.

Another option—and a more effective identity theft prevention measure—is to place a security freeze on each of your credit reports. A freeze prevents creditors (except those with whom you already do business) from accessing your credit report(s) at all. New applications will automatically be declined. With a security freeze in place, you will need to take extra steps if you wish to apply for new credit. Each agency has a procedure for temporarily “thawing” your file in order to allow a legitimate application to be processed and unlike a fraud alert, you’ll need to contact each agency individually to place a freeze on each of your reports. See more information about security freezes here: Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

When you place a fraud alert on your credit reports, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three agencies. Be sure to obtain them. If you find fraudulent items on your credit report(s), the simplest way to begin the dispute process is to click the item while viewing your credit report online. Some items must be disputed in writing and with supporting documentation. Hard inquiries cannot be disputed, but may give you a clue as to where a thief has applied for credit in your name.

Initial fraud alerts are free and remain in place for 90 days. In some cases, security freezes and extended fraud alerts incur a small fee, but these services are free to victims of identity theft.