Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal information such as your name, date of birth, or social security number to commit a fraud.  If you are the victim of identity theft, contact the fraud department of all three major credit-reporting bureaus.  As a victim, you can obtain a copy of your credit report free.

Experian:  1-888-397-3742 /
Equifax:  1-800-525-6285 /
TransUnion:  1-800-680-7289 /

Other agencies that may assist you according to the circumstances include:

Social Security Administration
1-800-269-0271 / if your social security number was compromised.
Federal Trade Commission:
1-877-438-4338 / for information on identity theft.


Here are some of the protections that are available:

Credit Freeze
A credit freeze is the best way to protect your credit score and to prevent someone else from opening an account in your name.  Only you can place a credit freeze or remove it.  Before an event occurs, you can put a freeze on your account at the three manjor credit bureaus.
The credit freeze is free for identity theft victims and, in some state, senior citizens.  The cost for non-victims varies by state, ranging from $3 to $20.  The same fee applies for removal.  The only downside is that a freeze may interfere with applying for anything that requires a credit report, such as an application for a credit card, mortgage, insurance, apartment rental or job.  If your account is frozen, only companies you already do business with can look at your report; you will have to temporarily remove the freeze to apply for new credit.
A credit freeze is a good protection for older adults against scams and friends or relatives who could open an account in their name.

Credit Cards
Credit cards offer the strongest protections against fraud.  As soon as you discover fraud, contact your card issuer -- then you'll have no further responsibility for unauthrorized charges.  Your maximum liability under the Fair Credit Biling Act federal law is $50 per card.  If the loss involves your credit card number, but not the card itself, you have no liability for unauthorized use.  Contact your bank or credit card issuer as soon as you learn about the fraudelent charges made to you account.

Debit Cards
Under federal law, if you report an ATM or debit card missing before it's used without your permission, the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized transfers.  If unauthorized use occurs before you report it, your liability under federal law depends on how quickly you report the loss.  Some banks reimburse you for any unauthorized debit card transactions up to the amount of the loss when reported within 60 days from statement date.

Prepaid Cards
Prepaid cards are not regulated and consumer protections offered by prepaid debit cards are voluntary.  They can be revoked or revised by the issuer at tany time and for any reason.

Credit Card Fraud/Loss Protection Insurance
You do not need fraud protection insurance for your credit card.  It can cost hundreds of dollars, while federal law already gives you free protection.  The law limits your fraud liability on credit cards to $50 per card before you report the credit card misisng; many cards have zero-liability policies and you don't owe anything if your card is stolen.

Credit Monitoring Services
Credit monitoring services track you credit report at one or more credit bureaus and will notify you if there is an inquire or activity made in your name.  Some monitor web sites, databases and public records, which can be helpful for someone who has already been an identity theft victim.  Before signing up for a credit monitoring service, make sure it looks at all three credit reporting agencies.  Check with the Better Business Bureau and your state attorney general to see if complaints have been filed against the credit monitoring service.

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