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What to Do If Your Identity Has Been Stolen

Did you recently check your credit report and notice an account you didn't know you had? Did one of your checks bounce when you thought you had plenty of money in the bank? You may have become a victim of identity theft. While your situation is definitely not an enviable one, there are things you can do to contain the damage done to your bank account and credit report.

There are things you can do to contain the damage done to your bank account and credit report.

Close any accounts you think have been compromised. If there was an irregular charge on your credit card or if the bank has records of a check you don't think you wrote, close the affected account(s). Do this first to stop the thief from taking any more of your money.

File a police report. The sooner you do this, the better off you'll be. Besides helping to find the thief, your bank or credit card company may require that a police report be filed as proof that the theft occurred before they take any action. If you can, get a copy of the police report. If you can't, at least make note of your report number. Filing a complaint with the FTC will help them track identity theft occurrences. It also helps them learn more about what's happening so they can gear better assistance in your direction.

It may be helpful to put a fraud alert on your credit reports. This will prevent anyone from acquiring a loan or opening a new account under your name, as the fraud alert makes it mandatory that you be contacted before such accounts are approved. You only need to call one of the credit bureaus, as the alert will automatically be placed on your other credit reports. Also, as soon as you place the alert, you'll be entitled to a free copy of your reports. As an extra security precaution, you can request that only the last four digits of your social security number appear on the reports. The downside to placing a fraud alert is that you'll be unable to remove any errors from your report as long as the alert is in place, and by law, the alert must remain in place for at least ninety days.

Be sure to keep careful, detailed records of everything you do related to your identity theft-telephone numbers you called, dates of when you called them, the names of the people you spoke with and copies of letters and any other correspondence you make as you work to clean up the mess and get your identity back.

The FTC has put together a good website for identity theft victims looking for advice. It outlines in detail what you should do if you are a victim of identity theft and can be found at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/.

As a victim of identity theft, you know the damage that can result from carelessness. By following these tips and the others you're given, you should be able to reclaim your credit and get your financial life back in order. And, to prevent this happening again, try following the guidelines set out in "Identity Theft: Prevent It before It Happens." There are things you can do to avoid being made a victim again.

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