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Despite their best efforts, people do fall prey to identity thieves, especially in today’s Internet-dependent world.
So, what should you do if you become a victim of identity theft?
As long as you report the fraud quickly, your liability is usually limited — generally as little as $50 with credit cards, possibly higher with debit cards and some other charges.
However, you are responsible for getting rid of fraudulent credit accounts and repairing your credit, which is the hard part.
Unfortunately, such fraud can foul up or ruin your credit for months or even years.
And repairing this damage often can be quite difficult, especially since credit reporting bureaus in particular, and the credit industry in general — as well as the federal government — are not, according to most consumer advocates, nearly as cooperative as they should be in helping consumers who are the victims of credit/identity theft.
If you do discover, or just suspect, that you’ve been the victim of credit or identity theft, immediately take the following steps:
• Contact the fraud departments of the three major credit reporting bureaus (Equifax, Experian and Trans Union) and have a fraud alert placed on your accounts. This means that new credit will not be granted in your name without your specific approval. Note that you need to contact each of the three major credit-reporting bureaus, since information given to one will not be forwarded or shared with the others.
• Contact directly each company through which credit or purchases have been fraudulently acquired or made to inform them of the situation and have them close the accounts.
• Keep a hard copy of all correspondence mailed or faxed related to the repairing of your credit, and get and keep the names of all representatives you speak with at the credit reporting bureaus and at the companies from which credit was fraudulently acquired.
• File a credit theft report with your local police.