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Steps to follow in a case of stolen identity

True story. Last week, I received a debit card in the mail, which was odd because I hadn’t applied for credit. First red flag. At first, I wondered if it was related to recent insurance changes. A week later, I received a notice in the mail that I had applied for unemployment. Second red flag.

There I stood, suddenly aware that I was either a victim of identity theft, or the only one at the La Plata County Extension office who didn’t know the Family and Consumer Science position had been vacated.

As much as I didn’t want to be burdened with the hassle of protecting my credit, I knew I must take action. But what do I do? I’ll start by giving credit to my colleague Mary Snow in Jefferson County for her sound advice. After all, sharing reliable resources, to help Coloradans solve their problems, is part of what we do in Extension. And a problem is what I have.

First things first, report the false claim to the Colorado Department of Labor and Employment and the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (www.IdentityTheft.gov). Because I received a U.S. Bank ReliaCard, I also reported a card was received in error.

Obviously, someone has more of my personal information than they should, so I best look into what other shenanigans might be happening under my name.

If you’re lucky enough to have a common name like me, you might be at greater risk for theft. Beware, next month’s From Extension may be written by my elf name, Twinkly Nut Cracker. If so, you’ll understand why.

Step two, check my credit report. Mary would advise we do this at least a couple of times a year, regardless of whether you’re a victim of identity theft. I suppose this is what we call being proactive, not reactive.

Three nationwide credit bureaus allow you to receive up to six free credit reports a year (and without impact on your credit score). Experian, Equifax and TransUnion are the companies you may want to bookmark on your favorite browser. Check all three, not just once, but multiple times a year, for at least a year. Some thieves are patient.

In these reports, look for errors in credit account status. Examples include:

  • Closed accounts are reported as reopened.
  • There are open accounts with late payments (that shouldn’t be), inaccurate balances, changes in credit limit or duplicate debts under different names.
  • There are credit inquiries, transactions or reports you did not initiate.
  • You notice inaccuracies in personal information such as the spelling of your name, address (past and present), Social Security number or date of birth.

Up next, place a credit freeze through the aforementioned bureaus. This will help protect you from having new accounts opened under your name for at least a year. Be sure to keep a secure record of your user name, passwords and PINs that you create for these credit bureaus. When you legitimately need to apply for credit, you can temporarily remove the credit freeze, but it will be difficult without this information.

You may need to file a report with local law enforcement, especially if you know details about the theft, or if a creditor requires a police report for their investigation.

You’re not quite finished. Change passwords on emails, financial accounts or any other accounts (online shopping) with financial information. Because I have no idea how the breach occurred, I’m going to run credit reports for my spouse and kids too. What a great way to spend my weekend.

Nicole Clark is the family and consumer science agent for the La Plata County Extension Office. Reach her at nclark@lpcgov.org or 382-6461.