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If you have become a victim of Identity Theft, it probably wouldn't surprise you to learn that this crime is becoming more prevalent. However, the fact that Identity Theft often involves mail fraud, which is a federal offense, means that strong federal sentencing guidelines are being applied to perpetrators of Identity Theft.

What identity thieves count on is that you won't find out about the theft until they have opened a number of fraudulent accounts, or a loan, using your name and Social Security number. Identity thieves will sometimes continue to make the minimum payments on fraudulent accounts to keep them open long enough to obtain as many goods and cash advances as they can before letting them slip into delinquency. You might not even hear about any of these accounts until you get a call from a collection agency.

If an identity thief is using your Social Security number, experts suggest to taking action as soon as you suspect foul play. Do you know what to do first?

Notify the credit report agencies
When you believe that Identity Theft has occurred, either as a result of checking your credit report or being contacted by an account issuer, there are things you can do immediately. The first thing you can do is to contact the fraud departments of any of the three national credit reporting agencies (CRAs): Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Tell them you are a victim of Identity Theft, and ask them to:
  • Place a fraud alert on your credit file, which should prevent any further credit from being granted without your approval. Making one call to place a fraud alert with any of the three national credit reporting agencies will automatically place a fraud alert on all three of your credit files.

  • Ask for a copy of your credit report from each of the three CRAs, and check for additional fraudulent accounts, unauthorized charges, or inquiries you don't recognize.
Placing a fraud alert on your credit report will prompt creditors to contact you for authorization before opening any new accounts. This course of action will also require creditors to obtain your permission when processing pre-approved credit card applications, which may have been intercepted and sent in by an identity thief. You can also opt-out of pre-approved credit card offers by calling the credit reporting agencies at 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (1-888 567-8688), and requesting an opt-out form.

Because different creditors sometimes may report to only one or two of the national credit reporting agencies, ordering your credit report from all three can help you to know exactly how many accounts may have been fraudulently opened in your name, and which companies have placed inquiries on your report and why. If you are a victim of Identity Theft, you are entitled to a free credit report from each of the national CRAs.

Notify creditors
Experts recommend that you make your creditors aware of any Identity Theft situation immediately to prevent further fraudulent use of your accounts. You may also want to keep a record of all dates, times, and contacts as you go through the process.

This article is provided for general guidance and information. It is not intended as, nor should it be construed to be, legal, financial or other professional advice. Please consult with your attorney or financial advisor to discuss any legal or financial issues involved with credit decisions.
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