What to Do If You’re a Victim of ID Theft

Follow these steps to protect your personal data.

Many credit card issuers will contact you if a charge falls outside your typical spending patterns, but it’s up to you to review your statements and to monitor bank accounts. Request a free copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus annually at (see Avoid Credit-Repair Scams). Pay attention to debt collectors -- they can alert you to bogus charges or to accounts opened in your name.

If you receive a data-breach notice, take advantage of free credit monitoring,, if it’s offered. But make sure you’re not automatically enrolled in a paid service when the free monitoring ends, and be aware that such a service may not pick up tax ID theft or medical ID theft.

Change your password for the compromised site and any others that share the same one. Programs such as Dashlane can help overcome the tendency to use easily guessable words or phrases, or use the same ones repeatedly. Most such programs require a master password that unlocks your other encrypted passwords.

If you have reason to believe you’re at risk for ID theft, consider putting a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert requires creditors to take steps to verify your ID before extending credit. To place the alert, contact one of the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, 888-766-0008; Experian, 888-397-3742; or TransUnion, 800-680-7289). The bureau you contact will alert the other two. A fraud alert is free and lasts for 90 days, although you can extend it.

Placing a credit freeze on your account stops access to your credit report for new creditors, although companies you already do business with retain access. Place the freeze at each of the three bureaus. You must ask to lift the freeze before any new business, lender or employer can review your credit report. State law determines how long a freeze lasts and what it costs. In some states, it’s free; in other states, the cost is around $10 to place and often to lift it.

Consider filing a report with the Federal Trade Commission and with local police, which may help as you work to remove any fraudulent charges.

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