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A friend needed quick advice after discovering – gasp! – fraudulent charges on her combo credit/debit/ATM card. She wrote:
Someone in Massachusetts has taken money directly out of my checking account for shoes and McDonalds! F—–s! I will get the money it back – eventually – but I’m still mad. It has woken me up. I HAVE to stop using an atm/debit card. It’s just an accident waiting to happen. Any suggestions Ms. Bargain Babe?
Yes! Here are seven steps to take if your identity has been stolen.
1. Call your bank immediately and cancel the card if fraud is evident.
2. Call any one of the three credit reporting agencies and ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit report. TransUnion is at 800-680-7289. Equifax is at 800-525-6285. Experian is at 888-397-3742.
3. Call your other credit and debit cards and check for suspicious charges. Ask the company to raise the identity theft awareness level and be very wary of new purchases, especially ones out of state or abroad. Internet purchases often show up as out of state, so ask if they can distinguish in-person charges from online purchases. For example, my friend can prove that she wasn’t grubbing on McDonald’s in Massachusetts so she will be able to get her money back. If you have travel plans, call and make them aware. (This is wise anytime you plan to use your card abroad.)
4. Request a copy of your credit report to make sure no new accounts have been taken out in your name. You can get one free each year through the FTC.
5. Try to figure out how your identity was stolen. It’s possible the thief has not used all the information s/he has. Change your passwords for all your banking accounts and others that may have been compromised.
6. Consider purchasing identity theft insurance or monitoring protection. Shop around to find what fits your needs and budget.
7. The FTC recommends you file a police report in the area where the theft occurred and you file a complaint with the FTC. You can start both of those steps here.
UPDATE: My friend took some of these steps and found out how her information was stolen.
I found out a little more about the theft of my account from the bank’s claims division. They believe I was a victim of the latest crime craze, atm skimming. There are all these crazy devised that people stick right on top of card readers on atms to capture your info. According to claims person, thieves most often used the cards for food and gas. (I guess my person was a greenie since she/he bought shoes instead of gas.) Turns out my thief kept trying to use my card after I stopped it. She tried four times at a Dunkin Donuts before she gave it up. I decided it was a she. Boys don’t buy shoes at Off Broadway shoes. Do they?
Probably not, but the important thing is to protect yourself from further identity theft. If the thief has access to only one account and you close it, fine. But if they have access to other accounts that you are not aware of (perhaps the thief has not used them yet) and you do not take steps to protect yourself, you could become a victim again.
The FTC has a helpful site about identity theft which has more info on what to do if you are a victim and how businesses can protect customers.
The blog Man vs. Debt came up with 33 things to prevent identity theft, including some of my suggestions above.