Prompt action including the issuance of fraud alerts and contacting creditors is essential when identity theft happens. In 2016, it was estimated that 15.4 million consumers were victims of identity theft. These crimes cost consumers nearly $16 billion. This was a significant increase over the 13.1 million consumers and $15.3 billion that was lost in 2015. It is a threat that is looming larger as time moves forward and consumers should know the steps that are required to protect their accounts and personal information.
Sealing the Leak
Consumers should take immediate steps to secure their accounts and stop the drain on their finances. One of the first steps consumers should take is to contact TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian and place a fraud alert on their accounts. These alerts help prevent the opening of new credit accounts in the consumer’s name.
It is also important to file an identity theft report with local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies as well as the Federal Trade Commission. Once these are filed, consumers should send this information to the credit bureaus and request that an extended fraud alert is placed on accounts. This alert lasts for seven years.
The next step is to contact the creditors, Social Security Administration, IRS, and Post Office and inform them of the theft. This can help prevent the individual who stole the identity from opening new accounts, obtaining tax information, or filing for a change of address. An FCRA attorney can help file these reports and help consumers secure their financial information.
Liability for Identity Theft
Under the Fair Credit Billing Act, liability for new or existing credit card accounts and charges that were unauthorized is $0. Liability for unauthorized charges to atm or debit cards is $50 if reported within 2 business days of learning of the left, and $500 for any period up to 60 days after the theft has taken place. If it is reported after 60 days, the consumer can be liable for the full amount. For this reason, it is crucial to check account status regularly and promptly address any unauthorized account activity.
Preventing Future Theft
Identity theft is a growing problem and consumers should be careful about opening “phishy” emails, visiting dangerous websites, downloading executable files from the internet, and using their credit/debit cards in risky locations. Individuals should also regularly change their passwords and routinely monitor their credit reports for unauthorized activity.