Protect Your Credit

By: Peter Kenny

Identity theft and credit card fraud are among the fastest growing crimes in the U.S. It is estimated that between $2 billion to $3 billion in credit card fraud is commited every year. The ways theives are able to gather the personal identifications of the victims of this fraud vary. They include stealing credit cards, stealing from mailboxes, going through the trash of the victims, and simply looking over the shoulder of victims.

However, there are several steps you can take immediately if your credit card becomes lost or stolen, or if you find bills in your mail that you do not recognize or charges you did not authorize.

The first step you should take is to initiate a fraud alert on all of your credit card accounts. There is a common misconception that by doing this it will prevent you from obtaining any further credit cards or financing in the future. This is simply untrue. What a fraud alert will do is require creditors to contact you by telephone before any new accounts are opened in your name. It will also require creditors to contact you by telephone before making any requested changes to any existing accounts, such as increasing your line of credit.

To place a fraud alert on your accounts, contact any one of the three major credit bureaus:

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

The credit bureau you contact will then contact the remaining two bureaus and all three will send you a current copy of your credit report, free of charge. When you receive these reports, look them over carefully. Note any accounts you didn't authorize or debts you don't recognize. Also check that all your personal information, such as name, address, and Social Security number are correct. If any incorrect or fraudulant information is found, contact the credit bureau immediately to have it removed. Then continue to check your credit report on a regular basis to insure no further fradulant activity is found.

After initiating a fraud alert, you should then immediately close any accounts you think may have been violated and submit an ID theft affidavit to the credit card companies in question. You should then file a police report with your local police department and also file a case with the Federal Trade Commission.

Identity theft is a federal offense with stiff penalties for those who dare to attempt it and are caught. By following these simple steps you can protect your credit and prevent yourself from becoming a victim of this very serious crime.

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