In the first half of 2019, almost 100,000 Americans were the victims of credit card fraud. If you’re in this situation, you need to act immediately. You’ll have to verify that fraud has occurred, get the accounts closed, and remove the fraudulent transactions from your record. You’ll also have to protect yourself from further breaches and try to find the criminal who did the damage.
Here are some basic steps to take when you find out you are a victim of credit card fraud.
Verify That You Are a Victim of Fraud
Get a copy of your credit report from each of the three major credit reporting companies: Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Review each report in detail. If someone has opened a credit card in your name and the bank reports to the bureaus, it will be listed here.
Find any suspicious accounts and make a note of all the details, including account numbers, date opened, and issuing bank.
Call the bank that issued the card. Speak to the fraud department. Explain the situation and identify the account. A suspicious account on your credit report isn’t always a sign of identity theft. A clerical error can assign an account to the wrong person’s credit report or merge an account with one carrying a similar name.
Report the Credit Fraud
If the issuing bank confirms that the account you report is fraudulent, you should report that crime. The criminal reports will be the basis for removing the charges and resolving the damage to your credit. Take these steps:
- Report the crime to your local police department. Ask for a copy of the report and any associated reference number.
- Visit the FTC’s identity theft website and submit an Identity Theft Report. Print a copy for your records. The site will generate a helpful recovery plan based on the information you provide.
- Call the three credit reporting companies. Ask to have an initial fraud alert placed on your account. Each agency will inform the others, but contacting them directly can assure immediate action.
Assemble your credit reports, the police report, and the FTC Identity Theft Report. Include any other correspondence that you’ve received. Make a copy for each bank that issued a fraudulent card and for each of the three credit reporting companies.
Contest the Fraudulent Account and Charges
You’ll want to start a formal dispute resolution process with Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion. Prepare a cover letter for each one, based on the template provided by the FTC. Attach each of your supporting documents. Circle or highlight each relevant item on your credit reports.
Once you’ve done that, send the letters and attached documents to the credit reporting bureaus. Use registered mail with a return receipt requested. Each company must respond in writing within 30 days of receiving your complaint. Each credit reporting company must give you a copy of your corrected report. They must also provide a copy to anyone who received your report in the last six months. Review the new report. Confirm that all inaccurate information has been removed.
Prevent Credit Fraud From Happening Again
Repairing the damage isn’t enough. The thief could come after you again. Your personal information could be circulating on the dark web. Other thieves could exploit the security breach that exposed you in the first place.
The initial fraud alert that you requested earlier in the process lasts for one year. While it is in place, any business issuing credit in your name must contact you and verify your identity. If you have filed an Identity Theft Report, you can request a seven-year extended fraud alert.
You can also request a credit freeze, which will block all access to your credit report. You will have to lift the freeze if you want to use credit.
A credit freeze will not prevent a thief from making changes to your existing accounts. You can watch these yourself, but it will take time and effort. A Credit monitoring product can alert you to any suspicious activity on your credit reports.
The information that was used to open a credit card in your name can be used for many other forms of fraud. Credit monitoring can’t detect fraud that doesn’t involve your credit report. An identity theft monitoring product can protect you from a much wider range of potential attacks.
Review the way you handle your personal information, both online and on paper. The FTC offers useful recommendations that can help you secure your identity.
The Bottom Line: You Can Recover From Credit Fraud and Identity Theft
Identity theft is a devastating crime. The impact can take years to repair. If you’re overwhelmed, seek help. You have to face this, but you don’t have to face it alone!
Remember that you’re the victim, not the criminal. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. If you receive a request or communication that you don’t understand, ask for clarification. The process may seem cumbersome, but it’s there to help you, and you need to follow it. The goal is worth the effort: at the end of the process, your credit and financial standing should be fully restored.