Three identity theft tools to know: fraud alerts, credit freezes and ID theft reports

June 17th, 2016 Deborah Engfer
Identity theft tools

Identity theft can happen to anyone, and it can feel scary, frustrating and overwhelming. When it does happen, you can regain control by taking certain steps.

We’ll help you understand fraud alerts, credit freezes and identity theft reports – how to create them and why they’re important.

Fraud alerts

If your wallet has been lost/stolen or someone has stolen your identity, it’s crucial that you place a fraud alert on your credit reports. With this alert, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit. This makes it harder for an identity thief to open accounts in your name.

Just contact one of the three credit reporting agencies, provide proof of your identity, tell them you’re an identity theft victim and ask them to place an initial fraud alert on your credit file. It’s free and will stay on your report at least 90 days.

They will explain your rights and notify the other two credit reporting companies. Later, you can place an extended alert, which will last seven years. Be sure they have your current contact information so they can reach you.

When you place an initial fraud alert, you are entitled to a free credit report from all three credit reporting companies. Contact each company, explain that you placed an initial fraud alert and order your report. Just be sure to ask them to show only the last four digits of your Social Security number. When you receive the reports, review them for any accounts or transactions you don’t recognize.

Credit freezes

With a little more effort, you can get the stronger protection of a credit freeze (also known as a security freeze).

If you’ve repeatedly had your identity stolen, this is an extremely important tool. When your credit file is under a credit freeze, access to your credit history is essentially off limits. Potential creditors won’t be able to access your credit report file, making it less likely an identity thief could open accounts in your name.

You will have to contact all three credit reporting agencies separately, as each agency has its own report on you.

The downside of a credit freeze is that it makes it more difficult when you want to open a new account, apply for a job, rent an apartment, buy insurance, refinance your mortgage or do anything else that requires your credit report. With a freeze in place, you will have to lift the freeze (temporarily or permanently) so creditors can access your credit history. Depending on your state, placing and lifting a freeze could be free or cost up to about $10.

Identity theft report

An identity theft report is important as it allows you to correct your credit reports and stop debt collection caused by identity theft. There are several steps to create a report.

First, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) through the web or phone. Explain you are a victim of identity theft and you’ll receive an FTC Identity Theft Affidavit.

Next, take this FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your local police office. You’ll also need a government-issued ID with photo, proof of address (like a utility bill), any additional proof of your identity theft, and the FTC Memo to Law Enforcement (available at IdentityTheft.org). Tell the police you’re an identity theft victim and need to file a police report. When finished, be sure to get a copy of the report.

When you have both an FTC Identity Theft Affidavit and police report, you essentially have an Identity Theft Report. Depending on your unique situation, there are various actions you may need to take at this point, such as closing fraudulent accounts in your name. IdentityTheft.gov has detailed information about special circumstances, such as tax-related and medical identity thefts. It also has additional information about the steps listed above.

If you have additional questions about identity theft, please don’t hesitate to reach out to your local banker at MidWestOne. We’re happy to help!

Credit reporting agencies contact information

Equifax

equifax.com

1-888-766-0008

Experian

experian.com

1-888-397-3742

Transunion

transunion.com

1-800-680-7289

 

Federal government

Identity Theft Information

consumer.ftc.gov/topics/identity-theft

identitytheft.gov

FTC Identity Theft Reports

identitytheft.gov

1-877-438-4338

1-866-653-4261 (TTY)

About the author

Deborah Engfer is Branch Manager/Personal Banking Officer at MidWestOne Bank.

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