Like HowStuffWorks on Facebook!

How Online Fraud Alerts Work


Reporting Identity Fraud
States are taking measures to protect people from identity fraud such as changing driver's licenses.
States are taking measures to protect people from identity fraud such as changing driver's licenses.
© Polaroid

If you're the victim of identity fraud, you should act quickly to help authorities find the culprit. The sooner you act, the faster you can control the use of your personal information.

There are additional benefits to acting quickly such as limited liability. The  Federal Trade Commission says the most you're liable for on a stolen credit card is $50 -- if you report as soon as you know something is wrong.

The first step to reporting identity fraud is contacting the fraud departments of the three major credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian. Let the credit agencies know you want a fraud alert placed on your file to help stop an identity thief from opening a new account in your name. The reporting procedures are different for each of the three agencies, and you should call them first to learn the latest reporting requirements, and if you're allowed to file online. You should also request a free copy of your credit report to check for suspicious activity.

The next step is to report identity fraud to law enforcement. If your wallet or purse was stolen, or if your home was broken into, file a local police report. Then contact the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Hotline at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338). You can also report ID theft to the FTC online [source: Federal Trade Commission].

If your Social Security card was stolen, report it to the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271, or file an online report. [source: Social Security Administration]. If your driver's license is also missing, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles.

One of the most important steps in the reporting process is contacting each of your credit card companies and your bank to tell them you're the victim of identity theft. You may have to deal with the inconvenience of getting new account numbers, passwords, or other data, but this is better than disputing a string of purchases made on your card without your permission.

Also make sure to contact your phone company.  Whether you have a cell phone or regular telephone line, if you're the victim of identity fraud, contact the phone company to let them know and to call you for authorization for any changes or to question unusual calling patterns connected with your phone number.

According to an analysis of 2006 identity fraud statistics, Biometrics Direct writer James Childers says one in three Americans is at risk of identity theft and fraud. It can take more than a year to learn your information has been used illegally unless you pay close attention to your accounts. Fight identity fraud by carefully reading all your monthly statements, monitoring your credit reports, and acting quickly when you know your personal data has been stolen.

For more information on identity fraud, identity fraud alerts and related topics, check out the links on the next page.