Michael Delgado is a Social Media Community Manager at Experian. Michael helps promote financial literacy on Experian social channels and writes for the Experian news blog.
Several years ago, someone fraudulently used my credit card number to make purchases at various stores around the country.
Thankfully, I got a call from my credit card company that alerted me of the activity, and then quickly closed down that account number after I verified the charges were fraudulent. All the debts were soon removed and I was issued a new credit card within a week.
Sometimes fraud can be handled quickly, but sometimes it takes a lot more time.
Here are five steps to protect yourself if you suspect any fraudulent activity on your credit accounts:
1. Contact the Creditor & Take Notes
First, call the creditor with fraudulent activity and let them know what’s going on. Document the phone call and keep a summary of all your conversations.
Write down names of people you talk with, time of day, date, departments, phone numbers and extensions. Find out from each creditor what you need to do get these debts removed from your account. You may be asked to complete and sign a statement about the fraudulent charges, so sign and fax it back quickly.
2. Request an Updated Credit Report
If you suspect credit fraud, pull a fresh credit report to ensure your credit accounts are listed correctly. If you have already received your annual free report at AnnualCreditReport.com, the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) entitles you to an additional free credit report if you are victim of fraud (or believe to be a victim of fraud). You can get your additional free report in fraud cases directly from Experian, TransUnion, and Equifax.
“Remember that if someone is making purchases after obtaining your account number, that activity will show on your billing statement, but not on your credit report” says Maxine Sweet, vice president of public education at Experian. “So make it a habit to watch your credit card billing online and check your statement carefully each month.” This is especially important during the holiday season.
3. Add a Fraud Alert to Your Credit Report
If you feel you might be a victim of identity theft, you may want to set up a fraud alert on your credit file with Experian, TransUnion, and/or Equifax. A fraud alert informs creditors to contact you directly before granting any credit in your name or increasing your credit limits.
First, you’ll want to add an initial security alert that will stay on your file for about 90-days. That gives you time to determine if you are a victim and time to file a police report. Then, once you have a copy of a police report and have confirmed that you are a victim, you may request the extended 7-year fraud alert to keep yourself protected going forward. These alerts are shared among the three national credit reporting companies, so you only need to request an alert from one credit bureau.
“You can also place a credit freeze which must be requested with each bureau, which restricts access to your report. However, freezing means you have to remember to temporarily unfreeze your report when you need services, which can be inconvenient,” says Maxine Sweet.
4. Get a Police Report & Submit to a Credit Bureau
After you’ve added a security alert and determined that you are indeed a victim, make sure to file a police report on what has happened. This police report should get submitted to the credit bureau as soon as possible and any fraudulent activity should be disputed at that time.
The credit reporting company may need up to 45 days to verify the police report and fraudulent activity. When the verification is completed, you will be notified of the results of the investigation.
5. Request Another Credit Report
After the fraud has been reported and cleared from the credit bureau you’re working with, request another credit report from each credit reporting company to make sure all of your reports are correct.
“Victims of fraud often find a year of monitoring services a good investment. Knowing that you immediately will be alerted to any inquiries, new accounts, or negative payments can bring peace of mind after being victimized,” says Maxine Sweet.
Image credit: horten