What do you do if you think someone is stealing your credit?
Dear Attorney Darchuk,
I think someone is trying to steal my identity. I keep getting calls from a collection agency about some bill I have nothing to do with. I’ve also noticed some strange charges on my credit cards. What should I do?
Here are the steps you should take immediately to clear up your credit:
- Access a free credit report that gives you the information from all three credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. You are entitled to one free credit report per year, and more if you think you have been the victim of identity theft. Go to www.annualcreditreport.com. Analyze the information carefully, and note any suspicious looking accounts.
- Contact the collection agency by phone and in writing. Explain to them that you have been the victim of identity theft and that you are not responsible for the charges. By law, the agency must provide you with proof that you actually applied for the account.
- Contact any other credit cards, stores, or holders of accounts that you do not believe you have actually signed for. Inform them that you are the victim of identity theft and will not be held responsible for the charges.
- If you believe there are false charges on any cards or accounts that you actually use, call that company and explain. Most credit card companies are very quick to respond to allegations of credit card theft. They will go through your bills to locate fraudulent charges, change your account number so the abused card can no longer be used, and quickly send you a new card.
- Contact the three credit bureaus and inform them that you have been the victim of identity theft. Ask to have a fraud alert placed on your account. A fraud alert requires companies issuing credit to verify that it is actually you that is applying for an account. Remember that you must contact all three bureaus! It is not enough to call one. Here are the phone numbers for the big three:
– Equifax (800) 685-1111
– Experian (888) 397-3742
– Transunion (888) 909-8872
- An initial fraud alert is good for one year. At the end of that year, you will have the option to extend that fraud alert for another seven years. If you feel especially threatened, you may have the bureaus place a security freeze on your accounts. No one can access to your information or open new accounts in your name until you lift the freeze. (Security freezes do not apply to employment searches, rental applications, or insurance).