My Coast Guard
Commentary | Aug. 31, 2021

Money Matter$: Knowing how to prevent and respond to identity theft

By courtesy Carletha Windom

Understanding how to recover from Identity Theft is crucial, and these days if ignored, can be costly. Today we live in a digitized world, and advanced technology software products make it easy for criminals to acquire consumers’ private information illegally to access other people’s taxes, medical, social, and additional personal data for their gain.

Here are three steps you can take when responding to identity theft victimization.
Step 1: Immediately call companies where you know fraud occurred and explain someone stole your identity. Ask them to close or freeze the accounts so no one can add new charges unless you agree. Change logins, passwords, and PINS on all impacted accounts.  
Step 2: Place a free fraud alert and obtain a copy of all three credit reports from www.annualcreditreport.com; it’s all free. To place a fraud alert, contact one of the three credit bureaus listed below – that bureau will inform the other two. A fraud alert lasts for one year and issuing a fraud alert makes it harder for an identity thief to open new accounts. Continue to monitor these actions regularly. The following are the three national recognized credit bureaus. 

  • Experian.com/help 888-397-3742
  • TransUnion.com/credit-help 888-909-8872
  • Equifax.com/personal/credit-report-services800-685-1111

Step 3: Know your rights if someone steals your identity. By law, you have the right to:

  • Create an Identity Theft Report on the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) website.
  • Place a one-year fraud alert on your credit report.
  • Place a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report.
  • Get free copies of your credit report.
  • Get fraudulent information removed or blocked from your credit report.
  • Dispute fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit report.
  • Stop creditors and debt collectors from opening fraudulent accounts.
  • Stop a debt collector from contacting you.

Key Takeaways

  • Create an Identity Theft Report with the FTC. Your identity theft report helps prove to businesses that someone stole your identity and makes it easier to correct problems caused by identity theft.  
  • Place a one-year fraud alert on your credit report. The fraud alert tells creditors that they must take reasonable steps to verify who is applying for credit in your name. To place this alert, contact one of the three national credit bureaus: Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. The credit bureau you file with must notify the others.
  • When you place a fraud alert, you’re entitled to a free copy of your credit reports. You will get a confirmation letter from each credit bureau with instructions on getting free credit reports.
  • Place a seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report. To do this, send a copy of your identity theft report to one credit bureau. That bureau must tell the other two. The extended fraud alert means potential creditors must contact you before they issue credit in your name. In your letter, be sure to include the best way to contact you, maybe a mobile number or email address.
  • Keep up with and organize all related documentation, have patience, continually monitor credit reports for any new suspicious activity and do a routine check of all places you have filed. Have patience! You may be asked for the same documentation twice.

The Coast Guard Personal Financial Management Program is here for you!

You have a team! The Coast Guard Personal Financial Management Program is here to provide education, resources, and individual appointments to support your financial endeavors. Identity theft can be a debilitating process and knowing your rights can help reduce some stress as you navigate this challenge.

Resources:

  • Contact your local Personal Financial Manager (PFM), your assigned Command Financial Specialist (CFS) or a CG SUPRT Money Coach for more information.   
  • For additional resources and information for the Personal Financial Management Program, please visit their website.  
  • For information on recovering from identity theft, visit IdentityTheft.gov

About the Author
Carletha Windom is an Accredited Financial Counselor (AFC) and serves as the Personal Financial Manager for the HSWL Regional Practice located in Cleveland, Ohio.  Carletha has been a long-time financial advocate interested in the economic consumer decisions of families.  She is currently studying identity victimization more in-depth related to the challenges individuals encounter during the identity theft recovery stage.