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What to do if you're a victim of fraud

Published: July 6, 2005 | Updated: July 26, 2006
What to do if you're a victim of credit card fraud

When you use a credit card, you can be vulnerable to fraud, whether you pay online, over the phone, or even in person at your neighborhood grocery store.

If you think you've been the victim of fraud or a scam, immediately follow these steps. The faster you contact the proper authorities, the more likely you are to minimize the damage a scammer can do to your identity, your credit, and your bank account.

Step 1: Close any affected accounts

Contact the genuine company or organization if you believe you've given sensitive information to an unknown source masquerading as that real company or organization. If you contact the real company immediately, they might be able to lessen the damage to you and others. Then:

Speak with the security or fraud department about any fraudulently accessed or opened accounts at every bank or financial institution you deal with, including credit card companies, utilities, Internet service providers, and other organizations that have your personal information.

Follow up with a letter and save a copy for yourself. When you open new accounts use strong passwords, not passwords such as your mother's maiden name, along with a new account number.

Step 2: Change the passwords on all of your online accounts

When you change your passwords or open new accounts, use strong passwords. For more information see Help protect your personal information with strong passwords.

Step 3: Place a fraud alert on your credit reports

In the United States, contact these three credit bureaus:

Equifax (800) 525-6285

Experian (888) 397-3742

TransUnion (800) 680-7289

For each of the credit bureaus:

Get a copy of your report (victims of ID theft can receive copies of their credit reports for free) and ask that no new credit be granted without your approval.

Make sure your account is flagged with a "fraud alert" tag and a "victim's statement," and insist that the alert remain active for the maximum of seven years.

Send these requests in writing and keep copies for yourself.

Review the reports carefully. Look for things like inquiries you didn't initiate, accounts you didn't open, and unexplained debts.

Outside of the United States, you can contact your bank or financial institution, who can direct you to the relevant organization or agency.

Step 4: Contact the proper authorities

In the United States, contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

File a complaint. If you are a victim of any type of identity theft, you can report the theft by calling the FTC's toll-free Identity Theft Hotline at (877) ID-THEFT or (877) 438-4338. Counselors will advise you on how to deal with the credit-related problems that can result from identity theft.

Download and print the FTC's Identity Theft affidavit. Fill it out and send it to all the financial institutions at risk to help minimize your responsibility for any debts incurred by those who stole your identity. Your case will be entered in the FTC’s nationwide "Consumer Sentinel" database of ID theft cases, which helps law enforcement agencies find criminal patterns and catch the thieves.

File a report with your local police department. Get a copy of the police report to notify your bank, credit card company, and other creditors that you are a victim of a crime, not a credit abuser.

Depending on where you live, you might be required to file a report in the jurisdiction where the crime actually took place.

Step 5: Record and save everything

As you complete all these steps to clear up the wrongdoing, always make print copies of documents for yourself, including e-mail messages, written correspondence, and records of telephone calls, and file them somewhere safe.

For telephone or in-person conversations, follow up with dated confirmation letters to the organization, and save a copy for yourself. State in the letter what was covered in the conversation, and list any follow-up items that you or the representative have committed to in the conversation.

Additional resources

United States:

Fraud.org, the National Fraud Information Center. Use the online complaint form or call (800) 876-7060.

U.S. Department of Justice ID Theft kit

Federal Trade Commission's document, Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, which includes sample dispute letters and other recovery procedures.

General:

Privacyrights.com provides a detailed 17-step plan to follow if your ID is stolen.

Identity Theft Resource Center


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