The Federal Trade Commission reported that 2014 marked the 15th year in a row that identity theft ranked as the most frequently filed complaint by consumers. In a high percentage of these thefts, stolen Social Security numbers are subsequently used to open credit card and other types of accounts for the purpose of withdrawing money and making illicit purchases. If you have discovered that your Social Security number has been stolen, there are three steps that should be taken immediately.
Take Immediate Action
Much like a date of birth, changing a Social Security number is virtually impossible, which makes these nine numbers an extremely valuable piece of information to identity theft rings. Armed with this information, hackers can set up bank accounts, credit cards and apply for loans using stolen identities. For those who have had their information stolen, reversing the mess created by numerous phony accounts can take years, especially when hackers can use Social Security numbers for extended periods unbeknownst to the victims. That's why it's important to take steps as soon as you suspect that someone else has your Social Security number.
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File a Fraud Alert with a Credit Reporting Company
When a fraud alert is filed with one of the three major credit reporting agencies -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- that agency is required to share the same information with the other two. A fraud alert on your credit report sends a red flag that requires creditors to verify that you are the person applying for a loan or credit account. The verification process might include direct communication from the company to you, so update your contact information with each reporting agency so it can reach you if an application for credit comes in under your Social Security number. For the highest level of protection, renew your fraud alert every 90 days.
Order Your Credit Reports
The filing of a fraud alert entitles victims to a free credit report from each credit reporting company, which can be used to determine whether fraudulent accounts have been set up in your name. Take the time to review all the accounts on each credit report to verify that they are legitimate and take note of any that are unfamiliar to you. Contact each unfamiliar business to see if it is filing reports for a related entity, such as credit accounts with retail stores that are filed by the card-issuing bank. If an account is determined to be fraudulent, follow up with either an email or letter to the associated company to start a timeline of your contacts with the company.
Create an Identity Theft Report
The first step in creating an Identity Theft Report is writing and submitting a highly detailed account of the theft and its repercussions to the FTC. You can learn more about how to submit this report on the FTC website (see Resources). A printed copy of this report, referred to as an Identity Theft Affidavit, should be presented when you report the theft to local law enforcement authorities. The combination of a police report and the Identity Theft Affidavit is recognized as an Identity Theft Report, which can then be used as official documentation of the crime. This document can then serve as a powerful tool in the next phase: reversing the damage of the theft on your credit reports as well as the accounts that were opened in your name.