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How can I avoid becoming a victim of identity theft when shopping online?

There are steps you can take to protect yourself from identity theft when shopping online. These include:

  • Shop at only secure sites.
  • Protect your personal information.
  • Protect PINs and passwords.
  • Add anti-spyware and virus protection to your computer or phone.
  • Identify and avoid phishing scams.
  • Use a credit card, which adds fraud protection, instead of a debit card.
  • Check your credit report.

While not a guarantee that your online holiday shopping will be trouble-free, following these steps should make you a much less attractive target for thieves. However, if you end up either suspecting identity theft or knowing for sure that someone has stolen your information despite your best efforts, these Identity Theft documents can help you report the theft and notify the companies and agencies that need to know that your security has been compromised. 

What should I do if I become a victim of identity theft?

If you discover your identity has been stolen, make a report with the local police department. You may need to submit a police report to your credit card company or bank to prove that you were a victim of a crime.

Next, reach out to your credit card company to dispute the fraudulent credit card transaction. After that, contact the fraud department of Experian, Equifax and TransUnion, the three major credit bureaus, to put a fraud alert on your account. This requires creditors to contact you directly before they open any accounts using your information or making changes to any existing accounts. You can also request a credit freeze on your credit report, which will prevent thieves from accessing the report to open new lines of credit in your name. You can customize this Credit Freeze Request document and send it to the three credit bureaus, or you can request a credit freeze online with Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.

Next, close the accounts that were fraudulently accessed. You can request a new card and number if it is a credit card, or close the account completely. If you have a balance and can't close the account, freeze it so no new spending occurs.

Finally, file a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Identity Theft Complaint. You can also submit an ID Theft Affidavit to the FTC as well as the credit bureaus to help protect yourself from further fraud or from the repercussions of the fraud that already occurred.

What are some of the long-term negative effects of having your identity stolen?

Identity theft isn't something to take lightly. There are long-term repercussions if you are a victim. First, if the thief runs up charges on your accounts, and you don't catch it fast enough, you may be on the hook for those charges. Credit card companies have fraud protection in place, and legally you can't be held responsible for the charges made by an identity thief, but proving the theft can take some work. If the charges involved your checking account or debit card, you will lose the money.

Second, identity theft can hurt your credit score. It can take a huge hit if the thieves open other accounts under your social security number or drive up charges. It can take several months to repair the damage done by an identity thief. This can hurt your ability to get a job or drive up your insurance premiums in addition to hurting your ability to get a credit card.

Finally, it's possible for an identity thief to commit a crime using your identity, leaving you with a criminal record. This is a serious issue that could hurt you for many years. Clearly, protecting yourself against identity theft is important.

What are the warning signs of identity theft?

Identity theft can come with some warning signs. Some things to watch for include:

  • Address changes on your accounts. If you have your address changed on your account, and you didn't authorize it, chances are a thief is trying to make a move. Use this Letter to Notify a Credit Card Company of an Unauthorized Address Change to alert your creditor.
  • Unauthorized charges. Check your account statements at least every month. If there are charges you don't recognize, chances are high it's a sign of fraud.
  • Unexpected credit score changes. If your credit score suddenly takes a nosedive, and it's not from actions you took with your accounts, chances are you have identity theft on your hands.

If you are noticing the warning signs of identity theft, you need to take action quickly. Rocket Lawyer offers a fast, affordable, and simple On Call® attorney service that will help you get sound legal advice for the next steps if you are at an impasse with creditors, banks, or credit reporting agencies. Use the service, and take the necessary measures to protect yourself from identity theft.

This article contains general legal information and does not contain legal advice. Rocket Lawyer is not a law firm or a substitute for an attorney or law firm. The law is complex and changes often. For legal advice, please ask a lawyer.

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