There's some real concern by detectives these days that they just can't get out in front of identity thieves. The problem is investigators seem to always be on the defensive, hoping they can find the person responsible for defrauding people.

Unfortunately, even when the person is held accountable, which is rare, there often isn't a penalty that's harsh enough to justify all of the work detectives do to try to put them behind bars. So it's a frustrating situation.

So you must protect yourself as a consumer. The more aware you are, the better off you'll be, because one thing we know for sure, the bad guys likely have all your personal information with all the data breaches that have happened. It's just a matter of if and when they'll use it.

Make sure you check your credit report at least once a year and keep an array of passwords to be used in your online activities.

Here are the top 5 things you should do immediately after you know you are a victim of identity theft.

1. Pull everything!

Pull your credit reports, financial statements and bank account information and highlight all items that are not correct. This will help to show you the depth of the assault on your credit.

2. Contact the financial institution involved in the fraudulent transaction(s).

They need to know immediately that what's been done was a criminal act. In my experience, they handled it professionally and took me seriously. I was very clear with them I did not complete this transaction and had nothing to do with it. I told them I would like them to investigate what happened so it didn't happen again to somebody else.

3. Put a fraud alert or freeze on your credit reports

I did this with all three credit reporting agencies (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion). Initial fraud alerts are free and will be in place for at least 90 days. I doubled down and subscribed to constant monitoring from Equifax to make sure once anything changed on my credit report, I would be alerted immediately.

Here are the links:

4. File complaint with the federal government

One of the easiest and most official things to do is to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. I provided them all the information and that allowed me to spit out a detailed report I could use to provide the financial institutions and the police a detailed explanation of what happened.

Get started here.

5. File a police report

In my identity theft case, the investigating agency was going to be in the state of Alabama. But I live in Michigan. I called the policy agency in Alabama where the boat was purchased to alert them to the case and they wanted me to go to my local police department to file a police report. Once your local police department finishes the report, it's up to them to send it to the agency that can handle the investigation. Make sure that gets done or you can get your own copy of the police report to send it to the investigating agency.

More tips:

  • Check with the IRS or Social Security Administration to make sure somebody hasn't filed a tax return or claim in your name and social security number.
  • Make sure you are getting your U.S. Mail. Contact the Post office if you feel you are missing information.
  • Order credit monitoring for an extended time to make sure no new accounts are opened in your name.

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