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Identity Theft First Aid

People learn that they may be victims of identity theft in different ways. Here are the first steps to take if you suspect you may be a victim:

I am getting calls from debt collectors and creditors on accounts I know are not mine.

Place a fraud alert on your credit files to help protect you against the possibility of more new credit accounts being opened in your name. You can do this by calling any one of the three nationwide credit reporting bureaus at the toll-free telephone numbers below:

For your next steps, see our Identity Theft Victim Checklist. Be sure to check the information under the header "If you are contacted by a debt collector."

There are charges on my credit card statement, bank statement, or other financial account statement that I did not make.

Act promptly. Call the bank or account issuer and tell them you didn't make the charges. Say that you believe the charges may be the result of identity theft and you want to dispute the charges.

For what to do next, see our Identity Theft Victim Checklist

My purse/wallet was lost or stolen.

If there were credit cards or checks in the purse or wallet, the first thing to do is to call the bank or account issuer and ask them to close the accounts and report it as "closed at customer request." If you choose to open a new account, ask them to create a password or PIN with the new account for added protection.

For what to do next, see our Identity Theft Victim Checklist

I received a letter (Security Breach Notice) saying my personal information was lost/stolen.

California law requires companies and state agencies to notify individuals if any personal identifying information held in its control has been compromised in a breach. Receiving such a notice does not necessarily mean you are an identity theft victim. There are a few steps you can take to reduce your risk of becoming a victim.

Depending on the information that was involved, you should take the following steps:

  • Social Security number:
    See: What to Do If Your Personal Information Is Compromised, pdf.
  • Driver License number:
    Call your local DMV office to report the incident and ask them to put a fraud alert on your license.
  • Credit card, bank account, or other financial account number:
    Immediately contact the financial institution that issued the account and request the account be closed and report it as "closed at customer request." If you choose to open a new account, ask them to create a password or PIN with the new account for added protection.

I just gave out my personal information in response to an email/telephone call and now I'm worried that it will be used for identity theft.

Don't be too hard on yourself for having given your information. Scam artists can be very convincing. They "phish" for victims by pretending to be banks, businesses, or even government agencies. They do this over the phone, in emails, through the regular mail, or on fraudulent web sites. In the future, never give out your personal information (such as Social Security number, bank account, credit or debit card number) unless you initiated the contact.

Depending on the type of information you provided, you should take the following steps:

  • Social Security number:
    See: What to Do If Your Personal Information Is Compromised, pdf.
  • Driver License number:
    Call your local DMV office to report the incident and ask them to put a fraud alert on your license.
  • Credit card, bank account, or other financial account number:
    Immediately contact the bank or creditor that issued the account and ask them to close the account. Ask them to report it as "closed at customer request." Let them know that you inadvertently gave out your account number and you're concerned about the possibility of fraud. If you choose to open a new account, ask them to give you a password or PIN (not your SSN or mother's maiden name) with the new account for added protection.

Should I buy a credit monitoring or identity theft protection service?

No one likes feeling vulnerable to identity theft, a sneaky and scary crime. More and more businesses are offering services they say will protect you from it. No company can absolutely prevent identity theft. What they can do is monitor your credit records for early signs of trouble, like someone applying for a new account in your name, and then notify you. Credit monitoring does not stop new accounts from being opened in your name, but a security freeze can do that. For information on security freeze, see How to Freeze Your Credit Files.

Be sure you are getting what you pay for. Before you buy anything from an identity theft protection company, read "Nine Things to Check When Shopping for Identity Theft Services," pdf from the Consumer Federation of America.

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