One of our readers, Jack, sent us this question:
Just a quick question. One of my family members had their purse stolen. Everything they owned was in the purse, from credit cards, checks, social security cards, and so on. Now would Freezing their credit report benefit her? Or would freezing them hinder the progress of getting everything straightend out? The theives did not open any new accounts.
Thanks for your question Jack! The short answer is yes, she absolutely needs to freeze her credit report as quickly as possible. Any time your purse or wallet is stolen there are ten basic steps that you need to take in order to protect your accounts and your credit rating.
Ten Steps to Combat Identity Theft:
- File a police report - Call your local police station (not 911). They will help you file a report. Make sure that you keep a copy of the report, and keep the report number handy. You may need it as proof to follow some of the steps below.
- Call your bank and report your debit card missing / stolen - It is important that you do this as quickly as possible because if you do not you could end up being liable for any charges the thief makes on your card.
- Your Checking and Savings Accounts - Close them and stop payment on any checks you have out if possible. Open up new ones, with new account numbers. Your bank should be able to help you.
- Freeze your credit reports - One of the first things would-be identity thieves do is to try to open up new accounts in your name. If you freeze your credit report it will not matter how many applications for credit someone puts in, they will probably not be able to open new accounts since your credit score will be hidden.
- Make a list of everything that you know was in your wallet / purse - At the very least you are going to need this list so that you know what you need to replace. You will also need it for step number 6.
- Start calling your credit card companies - Report the loss of each individual card. Cancel the card, and ask for a new card, with a new account number. By law you are not liable for more than $50 per account if your card is used without your permission, so take a deep breath and relax.
- Your Driver’s License - You will need to go to your local DMV and report your license as missing, and get a replacement.
- Your social security card - you will have to go up to your local social security office to get a new social security card. However, you will never be issued a new social security number unless there is proof that someone is using it fraudulently – you will just get a replacement card.
- Change your locks - If the thief got your keys as well, then you need to change the locks on your house, and if possible, your car. They have your keys. They have your address. Why take a chance?
- Temporarily purchase a credit monitoring service - especially if you do not freeze your credit report. This will be the first indicator that someone is opening accounts in your name, and right now, I think that it only costs around $30 a month to monitor your reports and scores from all three credit bureaus. Personally, I prefer TransUnion’s credit monitoring service over Experian’s. I have never used Equifax’s, so you may have to check that out yourself. You could also look into companies like Lifelock.
Here’s how federal law works: if you report your card stolen before the thief manages to charge on your card, then you are not liable for the charges. If you report it afterwards, the amount of your liability depends on how long you wait – so don’t wait. Do this the instant you have filed your police report, if not sooner. Ask for a new card, with a different account number.
Freezing your credit reports is a far more effective policy than simply placing a fraud alert since some lending banks could ignore the fraud alert and open new accounts despite the warning. As long as you have a police report there should be no charge to freeze your report at any of the three credit bureaus.
Once you have finally gotten this resolved, don’t forget to get a free copy of your credit report each year. Once someone has your information, it is possible that they always have it, so at the very least check once a year to make sure no new accounts have been opened without your knowledge.
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