There are many ways you can prevent yourself from being a victim of scams or identity theft. However, it is becoming easier to fall victim to scammers because technology is constantly evolving. With advancing technology, scams are becoming more and more difficult to detect. If you've been victimized, there are some steps you should take to recover your money, credit, and identity:
Check In With All Your Financial Institutions
If you suspect or already know that you've fallen victim to fraud, check transaction statements with each financial institution you have accounts with. It's important that you take note of every transaction or transfer you didn't make. Some details to note include:
- Amount of money stolen (each individual transaction and overall)
- Which accounts were compromised
- Geographical location of the fraudulent transactions, and if your account was used online, the web address and contact information for the business
- The dates of each transaction
Once you've compiled a list of information about the fraudulent activity, contact your financial institutions directly. It's also a good idea to contact any banks where you have accounts that haven't shown any activity. You’ll want to give them a heads up that someone is targeting you so they can heighten security on your accounts.
With credit cards, the Fair Credit Billing Act limits your liability for fraudulent charges to a maximum of $50. If you were a victim of fraud involving a debit account, you must contact your bank within two business days to limit your liability. Many credit card companies offer other protections, so be sure to check with your provider so you can understand how they’ll help you recover your funds.
Contact The Three Credit Bureaus
After contacting your financial institutions, you’ll need to reach out to the three major credit bureaus: Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. You’re entitled to one free credit report from each bureau annually; beyond that, you’ll need to pay. If you notice anything unusual or fraudulent on your credit report, make a note of it, like you did with your financial institutions.
This information will be helpful when you call the credit bureaus. Here's what you should discuss with them:
- Enacting a credit freeze to prevent anyone from using your personal information to open accounts or take out loans. You can set a temporary or permanent freeze.
- Setting a 90-day fraud alert on credit reports.
Experian, Equifax, and Transunion can help you understand the steps you need to take to recover your identity.
Other Places to Report Identity Theft
Aside from the credit bureaus and your financial institutions, there are a few places you should report identity theft and fraud. Most people don't report it when they’ve been scammed, but by reporting, you can help protect yourself and others from future victimization.
Other places to report identity theft include:
- Police: If you plan on claiming insurance on something that was stolen, it's important to report it to your local police.
- Better Business Bureau: If a business, or a fraudster pretending to be a business has scammed you, contact the BBB so they can investigate the complaint.
- Social Security Administration's Inspector General: Social Security fraud is serious and can affect your credit for a long time. One of the first things you should do if your social security number is stolen is to contact the SSA Inspector General.
- Census fraud: You can report people who attempt identity theft by claiming to be government representatives.
Moving On From Identity Theft
The best-case scenario is that you'll recover all or most of your money, but it's important to prepare yourself for the fact that you may not. After taking action to report identity theft and protect your credit, you should take steps to prevent future victimization:
- Changing passwords and logins for financial accounts, as well as the emails associated with them
- Verifying your financial institutions have a current address and contact information for you
- Investigate websites and business thoroughly if you've never used them before
- Check your credit reports to stay on top of fraudulent activity like identity theft