Identity thieves figure out ways to access consumers’ data, open new accounts and accumulate debt that ends up as part of a consumer’s credit history. This is why it is very important for consumers to check each of their credit reports at least once a year, if not more frequently.
Every U.S. citizen is entitled to access their credit report disclosure from each of the three national consumer reporting agencies once every 12 months. Consumers can request their free annual credit report disclosures at www.annualcreditreport.com—the only site authorized by the federal government for this purpose.
If a consumer becomes a victim of identity theft, there are a number of actions they should take:
- Contact their lenders/creditors immediately to report the fraudulent activity on their account(s) and file a police report indicating that they are a victim of identity theft
- Use the police report information to file an identity theft report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and receive an FTC Fraud Affidavit
- Dispute the items as fraudulent to each of the consumer reporting agencies that show the information on their report.
- Place a Fraud Alert on their credit files—when an alert is placed with one of the three national consumer reporting agencies, it will be automatically placed at the other two. The Alert remains on a consumer’s files for 90 days, after which they can renew it for another 90 days. The alert will be seen by potential lenders when an application for credit is submitted so they know to take special precautions prior to proceeding with the application process.
- Consider placing a Credit Freeze on their credit file(s). A Credit Freeze must be placed separately with each credit reporting company and is a more severe step that will prevent any third party from accessing a consumer’s credit reports. Without access to the report(s), lenders cannot access a credit score and will not be able to grant credit. Consumers should note, however, that they also will not be able to access their reports while the security freeze is in place. A consumer would need to temporarily “lift” the freeze(s) if they want to make a purchase that requires a potential lender to access their report and score. The credit bureaus have online systems in place that make it relatively quick and easy to lift and replace a freeze.
- Consumers should check their three annual credit report disclosures, which they are entitled to access for free once every twelve months at www.annualcreditreport.com.
- If signs of fraud or identity theft are found, consumers should contact their lenders to dispute items and consider placing fraud alerts on their files.
- Consumers can also consider placing a credit freeze on their credit files.