Think about all of your personal information – your address, your date of birth, your banking information, and your credit card numbers. Now imagine all of that personal information in the hands of a criminal. Identity theft is a serious crime; an identity thief can use your information to drain your bank accounts, run up charges on your credit cards, and even rent an apartment in your name. Fortunately, victims of identity theft have rights that can help protect their credit rating and their finances. If you ever find yourself the victim of identity theft, you have the right to file an identity theft report, protect your credit report, and safeguard your finances. Your Identity Theft Report
Before you contact your bank or the credit reporting companies, you’ll need to report the crime to your local law enforcement agency and file an identity theft report. This report describes the nature of the crime and lists your accounts that have been compromised. The identity theft report is the difference between being powerless and empowered. With the report in hand, you can protect your finances and your credit rating from identity thieves. Without it, you could be stuck paying for a criminal’s new home theater system. Your Credit Report If you think you might be the victim of identity theft, you have the right to place a 90-day initial fraud alert with all three credit reporting companies. This alert lets lenders and businesses know that you are a victim of identity theft; someone trying to open an account or borrow money in your name will have to prove his identity, a tough feat if he is an identity thief. Once the initial fraud alert expires, you can place a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report. This is where the identity theft report comes in handy – you’ll need to submit a copy to each of the three credit reporting companies. Once the alert is on your file, lenders, banks, and businesses must contact you directly before they issue loans or open accounts in your name. You also have the right to an accurate credit report. If an identity thief has wreaked havoc on your credit rating, the credit reporting company must investigate and make any necessary changes to your credit report to reflect only your activities. Your Finances
If a thief goes on a shopping spree with your credit card, you won’t be held responsible for the charges he incurs. With all credit cards, you are only liable for $50 of all fraudulent charges; some credit card companies do not hold cardholders liable for any charges. If you think you might be the victim of identity theft, check your credit card statements carefully. You must alert the credit card company within 60 days of discovering fraudulent charges on your statement, otherwise you might be held liable for more than just $50. If a thief has made off with your ATM or debit card, you are also only liable for $50 of all the fraudulent charges she places on your account – as long as you report the theft to your bank within two business days. If the thief manages to withdraw money from your account without using a stolen debit card, you cannot be held liable – just make sure you alert your bank in writing within 60 days of receiving the bank account statement with the fraudulent charge. You are also not legally responsible for any debts stemming from fraudulent accounts in your name. With just a few pieces of your personal information, a criminal can steal your identity, open accounts in your name, and ruin your good financial standing. Fortunately, the law is on your side. You don’t have to pay for a criminal’s spending spree, and you don’t have to explain away fraudulent accounts on your credit rating. By taking advantage of your rights as an identity theft victim, you can restore your credit rating and your peace of mind.