Many of us have been there. You receive a dreaded phone call from your credit card company letting you know that there are some questionable charges on your account. By the time you realize that your purse or wallet is missing, thousands of dollars of fraudulent charges have hit your account.
There are three immediate steps you should take immediately if your credit cards are lost or stolen. These steps will not only prevent further fraudulent purchases with your cards, but they will also protect your identity and your credit.
1) Immediately cancel every credit card.
If you haven’t saved the phone numbers for your credit cards, locate your latest bill. Those always have the customer service numbers on them. If you can’t find a bill, just search the internet for the company website and contact customer support. Make sure to cancel every credit card that is lost, including (especially) your bank debit cards. Each company will immediate close those credit card numbers and the cards will be rendered useless the next time anyone tries to use them. This is your first line of defense, and the most important.
2) Report the potential identity theft to the three Credit Bureaus
The three credit bureaus are Experian (www.experian.com), TransUnion (www.transunion.com), and Equifax (www.equifax.com). Contact each of them individually to report that you are a possible identity theft victim. Each service handles this generally the same. Typically you will receive a free copy of your credit report to review to make sure it is accurate and there are no fraudulent accounts on your record.
3) Place a free 90-day security Alert on All Credit Inquiries to your Social Security Number
Most importantly, the three credit bureaus offer a 90-day Fraud Alert. This is one of the best ways to protect yourself from identity theft after your credit cards or personal information has been stolen. This alert, which is usually either free, or very low cost, will notify potential credit grantors that they need to verify your identity before extending credit in your name. This will require the grantor to call you first, and confirm that you are really applying for a credit card or loan, before they will process the application.
If you are very concerned about someone misusing your social security information to secure credit in your name, you may also consider paying a small fee to purchase Fraud Alert services that extend longer than the initial 90 days. This could provide you with additional security and peace of mind.
Following these simple steps will immediately prevent any fraudulent charges from getting attached to your credit card accounts, and it will also immediately stop anyone from using your identity to obtain credit. For anyone who has ever had their credit cards stolen, or had their identity misused, this small effort is well worth the tremendous peace of mind that it will bring.