If you've ever been the victim of identity theft, you already know that straightening out the mess can be a real headache. While many banks and credit card companies are diligent and speedy about reversing fraudulent charges, restoring your good name on your credit report requires an additional, important step.
Giving the three major credit bureaus—Equifax, TransUnion and Experian—a heads up can go a long way in keeping your identity safe and preventing further damage. Here's how to do it.
Your first order of business is to report the fraud to the Federal Trade Commission via IdentityTheft.gov. You can also do it over the phone at 1-877-438-4338, but doing it online will also get you an identity theft report and a recovery plan. This includes template letters you can fill in and send to creditors to dispute fraudulent charges.
Do it sooner rather than later. This means initiating two different action items: establishing a fraud alert and freezing your credit. The good news is that both are relatively easy (and free).
Fraud alert: A fraud alert puts a 90-day flag on your credit report that tells lenders not to issue any new credit until they've verified your identity. (Victims of identity theft can extend this timeframe up to seven years.) Setting a fraud alert can be done online with only one credit bureau that will then alert the other two. With TransUnion, for example, you can report it with a few clicks before they contact Experian and Equifax to do the same. However, you'll need to contact each bureau individually if you want to delete your fraud alert.
Credit Freeze: Unless you freeze your credit, lenders can still view your credit report and ultimately allow for new accounts to be open in your name. A security freeze safeguards your credit report so that lenders can't see it or make any lending decisions without your express consent. Freezing and thawing your credit is actually pretty easy. You just need to contact each credit bureau (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) individually and follow the prompts.