Okay, so maybe you weren’t all that careful … or maybe you were but something slipped through the cracks. The next thing you know, your credit report is full of accounts you never opened and your credit card is being bombarded with fraudulent charges. Maybe someone has been making withdrawals from your bank account, checks are bouncing, or you discover multiple prescriptions on your medical record that aren’t yours. You are the victim of identity theft. What do you do?
The answer varies depending on where you live. Below we’ve laid out some instructions to put a stop to identity theft for the USA, Canada, the UK, and Australia.
The first thing you should do is place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Contact one of the three national credit bureaus–Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion–and inform them that someone is misusing your personal or financial information. By law, the bureau you alert must inform the other two as well, so you only need to contact one. Initial fraud alerts make it more difficult for thieves to open more accounts in your name. Businesses should try to contact you to verify your identity before opening an account. An initial fraud alert lasts 90 days. You can also consider implementing a credit freeze, which might cost about $10 depending on your state. Credit freezes are more extreme and block all creditors from accessing your credit file. This is good, but it also blocks companies that you are legitimately subscribed to, which may need timely access to your credit report.
Next, order your credit reports. By law, you can request one credit report from each of the national credit bureaus free of charge once per year. Additionally, placing a fraud alert entitles you to an additional credit report from each bureau. Your credit report will contain any new accounts that have been opened up under your name. Contact those businesses, explained what happened, close those accounts, and start taking steps to get refunded if necessary. Ask for a return receipt so you have a record of communicating with them, and follow up in writing.
Lastly, create an identity theft report. You can show this report to the businesses mentioned above as proof that your identity was compromised and misused. This will assist in removing fraudulent charges and stop companies from making further collections. If you need to extend your initial fraud alert another 90 days, the identity theft report may be required. You may submit your complaint to the FTC and print out an affidavit of the report after filling in all the details. Next, file a police report and either write down the report number or get a copy. You will need the affidavit when filing the police report. Once you have both documents in hand–the affidavit and the police report–your identity theft report is complete.
The next steps vary depending on what information and accounts were compromised. Dispute errors with credit reporting companies, banks, and credit card companies. Cancel and replace your cards. Clear up the situation with debt collectors. Keep a record of each of the disputes and always follow up.
If you’re Canadian and your identity has been stolen, start off by immediately canceling all your cards: both financial and otherwise. If you do not do so promptly, you could be held liable for damages. Usually you can get them replaced at the same time you cancel them.
Next, contact Canada’s national credit reporting bureaus: Equifax and TransUnion. Request a copy of your credit report from both companies and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your file to prevent thieves from opening up more accounts in your name. Unlike the US, you will need to contact both bureaus, not just one. Fraud alerts will remain on file for six years.
Once you have your credit reports in hand, review them thoroughly. Search for any newly opened accounts that you didn’t authorize. Contact each of the creditors in question, explain the situation, and request that any accounts you didn’t open be closed. Also decline any accounts that you didn’t request.
Now it’s time to call the police. File a police report and either get a copy of it or write down the report number for future reference. You might need this to prove to creditors that charges were fraudulent and have them removed.
After you have a police report, call the Canadian Anti-fraud Centre (CAFC). The CAFC collects criminal intelligence on all sorts of fraud cases, and yours can help in the fight against fraudsters and identity thieves. On the CAFC website, you can fill out an Identity Theft Statement. This will help you notify creditors of false charges and debt so they can begin investigations. Make copies and send them to as many companies and creditors as needed. Review your credit card and bank statements. If you see something suspicious or fraudulent, contact the creditor in question and file the Identity Theft Statement with them.
Finally, if you think your mail has been re-directed, notify Canada Post. Also let your utility providers–phone, electricity, water, gas–of the identity theft. Ask that new requests for service be confirmed with you first.
If you suspect you are a victim of identity theft, start by requesting a copy of your credit report from one or all of the three national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, and Callcredit. Tell each credit agency the situation. Search for any accounts you did not open, and contact the creditors immediately to close down any fraudulent accounts and prevent further charges. You must pay a postage fee of £2.00 or sign up for a free trial account at each bureau to access your credit report.
Check your bank statements and credit card activity for any suspicious charges you don’t recognize. If you spot something irregular, contact the bank in question to have the card or account cancelled and replaced.
Once you’ve taken the necessary steps to stop further fraud, contact the police and file a report. Jot down the crime number or incident number for future reference, as the report might be necessary to remove fraudulent charges from your accounts.
With police report in hand, go through the list of suspicious accounts on your credit report and contact each of the creditors. Explain your situation and begin the process of restoring your identity, closing accounts, and erasing debts. Be sure to keep a record of when and with whom you spoke at each organization, be it a bank or creditor, and always follow up in writing.
The most common way for identity theft to occur in the UK is by thieves intercepting your mail. If you’re a victim of identity theft, contact the post office and let them know the situation so they can investigate.
Finally, consider applying to CIFAS, the UK’s fraud prevention service, to apply for protective registration. This is similar to a fraud alert in the US and Canada. CIFA members will take additional steps whenever someone tries to open an account or apply for a financial service in your name. They will likely contact you whenever someone applies for credit using your name and address. The cost is £20.00 for two years of protection.
Begin by filing a police report. Make sure to ask for a copy or at the very minimum a reference number, as some businesses will require proof that you are a victim of identity theft before removing fraudulent charges. In addition, you can also report the crime at the Australia Cyber Crime Online Reporting Network.
Fill out a support request form online or call IDCARE, the national identity support service for Australia and New Zealand. Its experts will give you advice on how to respond.
Contact all of the issuing organizations to which your identity might have been compromised. That includes credit card companies, banks, insurance companies, government agencies, etc. Get your cards cancelled and replaced. Provide each with a copy of the police report when necessary to remove fraudulent charges.
Next, acquire a copy of your credit report. Australia’s credit reporting agencies include Veda Advantage, Dun and Bradstreet, and the Tasmanian Collection Service. Ask each of the agencies to place a fraud alert on your file so that you will be notified of any requests for credit under your name.
Go through your credit report and search for any accounts you didn’t open. Contact those businesses and explain the situation, provide the police report when necessary, and close the accounts. Begin the dispute process at each company to remove fraudulent charges.
Contact Australia Post to make sure your address hasn’t been changed, and inform them of the situation. Check with the businesses and government agencies you are legitimately signed up with to make sure your address hasn’t been altered by someone else.
Finally, consider obtaining a victim’s certificate. This may or may not be necessary in addition to the police report as proof that you are a victim of identity fraud. You can find out if you qualify for a victim’s certificate by checking the criteria listed on the Australian Department of Home Affairs website.