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Oh NO! My Identity has Been Stolen!

Identity theft has reached epidemic numbers. If you've read the article Be Proactive Against Identity Theft you know that it’s wise to do all that you can beforehand in order to shield yourself from this crisis. But according to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) statistics, it may not be enough; in the U.S. alone there's a new identity theft victim every four seconds. It may therefore be more a matter of when and not if it happens to you.

Discovering that you've become a victim of identity theft or some other type of credit fraud can be an extremely stressful and costly experience if not handled swiftly and correctly. Although you may be protected financially if you become a victim, correcting the problem will still likely require a significant amount of time on your part. It's estimated that victims of identity theft must make a time investment of between 175 and 600 hours or more to recover their good names and clear the incident from their records.

So, how can you determine if your identity has been stolen? There are a number of telltale warning signs that you should watch for, such as:

  • Your credit reports list new credit cards issued in your name that you never applied for or received.
  • Your credit reports list information about accounts that you didn't open and know nothing about.
  • You begin to notice charges on your monthly credit card- or bank statements that you didn't authorize.
  • You may stop receiving monthly credit card statements or important bills altogether.
  • You begin receiving bills from companies with whom you've never done business.
  • You begin receiving phone calls from creditors or collection agencies concerning accounts that you know nothing about.

If you think that you've become a victim of identity theft or some other type of credit-related fraud, take immediate action. Contact your creditors and bank immediately to inform them of your suspicions. If you've had a credit card lost or stolen (or you notice potentially fraudulent charges on your statement), report it immediately to the card issuer. Also, file a report with your local police department and obtain a copy of it. Collect and safeguard all documents, such as your credit reports, monthly statements, or other written information that relate to your suspicion. And if you believe someone is fraudulently using your Social Security number, notify the Social Security Administration.

Change the passwords, PINs and account numbers of all your ATM/debit and credit cards and your bank accounts. Contact the Fraud Victim Assistance department at each of the major credit reporting agencies and request that a "Fraud Alert" be placed in your credit file. Once this is done, creditors will be instructed to take additional steps to verify your identity before granting you (or someone impersonating you) any more credit.

Regardless of the statistics, remain vigilant. One of the best ways to prevent identity theft is to subscribe to a credit monitoring service so that you'll be notified within twenty-four hours whenever any type of change is made to your credit report. Thus, if someone uses your identity to apply for a credit card or any type of loan or credit account, you'll find out about it almost immediately and be able to take appropriate action before it's too late.

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