If you’ve been a victim of a scam or your personal information was involved in a data breach, you could be a target for identity theft. 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.
- How to report identity theft
- How to minimize risk and financial loss if you are an identity theft victim
If you suspect ANY improper or illegal activity is taking place, follow the seven steps below immediately. We also help you find out how much identity theft might cost you.
1. Check Your Credit Report
Get a copy of your credit report to see if any new accounts or credit inquiries show up. Virtually all of your credit information is in your credit report. If someone is opening accounts in your name, it should show up there.
If you suspect you’ve been a victim of fraud (for example; you’ve had your mail stolen, lost your wallet, or been contacted by a collection agency for an account you’ve never heard of), you should contact the fraud department for each bureau. You are eligible for a free credit report sent via U.S. mail.
2. Place a Fraud Alert
Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus and report that you think your identity has been stolen. Ask that a “fraud alert” be placed on your file and that no new credit be granted without your approval.
If you’re a resident of many states, you can also apply to “freeze” your credit.
3. Start Your Research
Contact each company where you think you might have been a victim. Talk to their security or fraud department and explain what has happened. Review your account with them for any incorrect charges or a change of address. If you find something is wrong, you may need to close the account. If you open any new accounts, ask the company to put passwords (not your motherís maiden name) on the account.
The Federal Trade Commission has tried to make this process easier by creating an Identity Theft Affidavit. It’s a document you can fill out once and use with each company investigation. Get it here (you will need a web plug-in called Adobe Acrobat Reader), or go to the FTCs identitytheft.gov website and follow the step-by-step instructions.
4. File a Police Report
File a report with your local police or the police where the identity theft took place. Get a copy of the report in case the bank, credit card company, or others need proof of the crime later on. Also, make sure that the crime is reported under identity theft.
5. Document Everything
Make notes of everyone you speak with; ask for names, department names, phone extensions; record the date you spoke to them. Don’t throw these notes away! Keep all notes and letters together in case they are needed in the future. Keep track of the time you spend documenting this information and lost hours at work. You will need this information if the perpetrator is ever caught. You can be reimbursed for the time spent and hours lost. One person I know reclaimed $3200 for her effort!
6. Talk to the Government Agencies
The Federal Trade Commission
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, the Commission assists victims of identity theft by providing them with information to help them resolve the financial and other problems that can result from identity theft. The FTC also may refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action.
If you’re sure that you’re a victim of identity theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC by contacting their hotline.
Toll-free 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
Federal Trade Commission
600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW
Washington, DC 20580
Online ID Theft Complaint Form
The Post Office
Contact your local office of the Postal Inspection Service if you suspect that an identity thief has submitted a change-of-address form with the Post Office to redirect your mail, or has used the mail to commit frauds involving your identity.
The Social Security Administration
Contact the Social Security Administration with any allegations that involve the following:
- Buying and selling of counterfeit or legitimate SSN cards
- Misuse involving people with links to terrorist groups or activities
- Misuse of an SSN by someone else to obtain Social Security benefits
The Internal Revenue Service
Contact the Internal Revenue Service if you suspect the improper use of identification information in connection with tax violations (call 1-800-829-0433 to report the violations).
7. Talk to the Check Verification Companies
If someone is using checks they’ve stolen from you or has set up a bank account in your name, contact the major check verification companies. In particular, if you know that a particular merchant has received a check stolen from you, contact the verification company that the merchant uses.
Is Identity Theft Going to Cost You?
It clearly is going to cost you time and money to clear up. But your liability for charges can be limited if you report any problems promptly. Here’s the info:
If you report the loss before the credit card is used, the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges. If a thief uses your credit card before you report it missing, the most you will owe for unauthorized charges is $50 per card. This is true even if the thief uses your credit card at an ATM machine to obtain a cash advance.
As your liability is limited to $50, beware of calls from telemarketers selling “loss protection” insurance. Some telemarketers may falsely claim that you will be responsible for all unauthorized charges made against your account if your credit card is stolen. Don’t buy the pitch and don’t buy the unnecessary insurance.
How to Contact Visa, MasterCard, and American Express
- Visa – (800) 847-2911
- Mastercard – (800) MC-ASSIST
ATM and Debit Cards
Be aware that ATM and debit cards do not allow the same protections as credit cards. If you fail to report unauthorized charges within a timely manner, you could be held liable for the charges.
- If you report an ATM or debit card missing before it is used without your permission, your financial institution cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals.
- If you report your ATM or debit card lost or stolen within two business days of discovering the loss or theft, your liability is limited to $50.
- If you report your ATM or debit card lost or stolen after the two business days, but within 60 days after a statement showing an unauthorized withdrawal, you can be liable for up to $500 of what a thief withdraws.
- If you wait more than 60 days, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the end of the 60 days and before you report the card missing.
Most states hold the bank responsible for the losses from a forged check. However, you may be held liable for the forgery if you do not notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen, or if you do not monitor your account statements and promptly report an unauthorized transaction. Contact the major check verification companies to request that they notify retailers using their databases not to accept the lost or stolen checks, or ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business.
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 (PDF link).