If you've been hit by identity theft, it's important that you act immediately to prevent further damage to your finances. Here's what to do:
Call the bank, lender, card company, utility or merchant with whom you have the affected account. Fast action stops thieves from racking up more charges in your name.
Grab a notebook. Log every call and contact you make. Note the date, time and length of the call, who you spoke with, what you said and what they said. File copies of documents. Use certified mail for all letters.
Call your insurance agent, bank or credit union and the human resources department at work to ask what access you may have to free or low-cost damage-control programs for identity theft victims.
Make your passwords strong, which means they should include upper- and lowercase letters, as well as numbers and symbols.
This denies access to your credit to all but your current creditors. It's not always recommended. Read "When Freezing Your Credit is a Bad Idea" for the pros and cons.
Order your free credit reports. Get a report each from Experian, TransUnion and Equifax. (As a fraud victim, you are entitled to these reports in addition to your free annual credit reports.) Comb them for errors and follow each company's instructions for disputing an error. If you want help monitoring your credit, subscribe to a free service, like Credit.com's Credit Report Card, which provides two free credit scores and a free monthly credit check. Falling credit scores can alert you to fraudulent activity.
Call the police. Even if they can't catch the thieves immediately, reporting the crime could help make a case against the thieves down the line. And you may need a police report to prove that charges made in your name are not yours.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) makes identity theft a priority. While it doesn't investigate individual cases, it collects information on crimes and helps police in their investigations.
It might be tough to hear when you're the stressed-out victim of identity theft, but resolving this problem could take some time and work on your part. Take a big breath once in a while and keep forging ahead.