The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimates that crimes of identity theft affect 9 million people each year. It is the most frequent complaint that people file with the FTC and has held the number one spot for the past five years. According to a 2008 national research study on fraud, an identity theft occurs every 79 seconds! Ironically, in that same year, even Ben Bernanke, who is the current chairman of the Federal Reserve Bank, had his family’s personal financial information stolen when his wife’s purse was stolen.
According to the study on fraud, the simplest and most common form of identity theft is credit card fraud. In the case of the Federal Reserve chairman, his wife had her purse stolen when she was in a public place. The credit cards in the purse were what the thieves were after. Initially, they will charge money to the cards, but with a credit freeze placed on the lost card, thieves will not be able to get much; therefore, they may focus on obtaining sensitive financial information so they can open other accounts in the name of the card holder.
The damage can come almost instantaneously with charges to a credit card, but if your personal information is compromised, the effects can stretch out over a long period of time. When credit cards get into the wrong hands, take immediate action!
1. Make a note of what was stolen and make telephone calls to all of the relevant credit card companies ASAP and report the theft. They will institute a credit freeze on your accounts.
2. Follow the phone reports with a letter or personal statement explaining the situation. This may include a copy of the identity theft report or other documentation.
3. Follow the directions from each of your creditors. Make sure you send any written reports to the correct addresses of the departments that handle fraud and not the payment processing centers.
4. Request new cards and find out how long it will take to receive them as you will want to make sure that only you get them.
5. Change any and all passwords for all financial accounts and make sure passwords are random and not something that could be easily figured out from previous password patterns.
6. Check your credit report for any problems immediately and place a security alert on your account information.
7. You can also request that your bank report your information to ChexSystems, a check verification service. An alert can be put in place at this service, in case a thief has set up a false bank account in your name.