Consumer fraud has become quite common in recent years, made easier by the Internet, the growing number of bank and credit card accounts that are accessible online, and advances in spyware technology. Luckily, if you are a fraud victim you can report the problem, protect your accounts, and help the authorities to investigate fraud.
There are two very important things you will need to do if you are a fraud victim. The first is to report the fraudulent activity to your local police department. The police department will have you fill out a report, which will help with their investigation. You will also need to request a copy of the report for your own records.
The other thing you need to do if you are a fraud victim is to report the fraud to the major credit reporting bureaus; in the US, these are Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. You should file a fraud alert with each, which will significantly reduce further fraud by requiring that companies call you to verify your identity before issuing credit to anyone using your name and information. Although this will make a few more hoops for you to jump through if you legitimately want to open a new line of credit, it will also make it impossible for the thief to continue using your identity and ruining your credit history.
When a fraud victim files a fraud alert with the credit bureaus in the US, he or she will have a choice between two different types of fraud alerts. One is a temporary 90-day alert that you will have to call and renew every three months for as long as you want it to remain on your credit report. The other is a more permanent, seven-year alert that you will need to request in writing. It is important to request the fraud alert with each of the three credit bureaus, because although they do share information with one another, there is often a communication delay. Additionally, there have been many cases of the credit bureaus not communicating information accurately with one another, so calling or writing to each of the credit bureaus yourself is simply good protection.
Both of these reports are equally important. Your report to the local authorities enables them to investigate the fraud and hopefully catch the thief, while setting up a fraud alert on your credit reports contains the problem and minimizes the damage done to your credit. You will also need to review your credit report, identify any fraudulent activity, and contact the credit bureaus and creditors in writing to have it removed.
Whether or not you have been a fraud victim, you might want to take certain precautions in order to prevent thieves from getting hold of your personal information. One way is to be sure you have passwords on all of your financial accounts — other than your mother's maiden name, as that is too easy to guess and the information is too available to scammers. Your passwords should also be different with each account — often thieves will hack less secure websites to gain usernames and passwords, and then try those on financial websites.
Another way to protect yourself is to be sure you know how to recognize a scam. There are many online scams that attempt to gather personal information so that the scammer can steal your identity. Phishing emails and fake sign-in pages are common, so make sure you always sign into your account from the main website and not from a link you followed from an email or another web page.
Once you have been a fraud victim, you will need to pay close attention to your credit report and work with the authorities in order to repair your credit and prevent any further fraudulent activity. If you have been a fraud victim once, you may want to subscribe to a paid identity protection service to give you a level of protection that you cannot get yourself without putting a lot of time and effort into it.