Money Matters

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Recovering from identity theft

The crimes of identity fraud, a situation in which someone's personal information is used to access money, and identity theft have grown increasingly common in recent years. The number of identity fraud victims jumped to 13.1 million in 2013, according to a report by Javelin Strategy & Research.

Data breaches and hacker activity account for a growing number of identity theft cases. In addition, criminals have grown more adept at using information they obtain about others to take over consumers' finances.

So how do those victimized by identity theft repair the damage and recover their good names? The process can be both time-consuming and frustrating, but the following is a plan to help men and women recover from identity theft.

• Do not panic if you learn of a data breach or even if your personal information has been compromised. In many instances, banks, retailers and other companies that store personal data have safeguards in effect to prevent widespread distribution or use of stolen information. A data breach may mean account numbers were stolen but not PIN codes. Get the facts first and then you can go from there.

• Americans victimized by identity theft can file an official report with a local law enforcement agency as well as the Federal Trade Commission. Keep a copy of the police report as well as the contact information of the fraud investigator who handled your case. Many creditors will require a police report when individuals try to resolve problems with them. Canadians can log on to the Anti Fraud Centre (www.antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca) and download an Identity Theft Statement.

• Contact one of the three major credit monitoring bureaus and ask to have a fraud alert placed on your credit report. After an alert is placed by one credit bureau, the others should follow suit. Give the police report number or any claim number to the credit bureau as well. Here are the numbers for the credit bureaus:

- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285

- Experian: 1-888-397-3742

- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289

• Contact your credit card companies promptly and inform them of the identity breach. They can put notes on your account to verify purchases and also to go over any purchases made recently that may be suspect. Just to be safe, ask each of your creditors to issue new cards with a different account number.

• Speak with a banking representative if you are a frequent user of an ATM card or debit card. Review your latest banking statement to see if there are any suspect transactions on the account. Request a new debit card be issued.

•  In some instances, identity thieves change your address in order to facilitate additional crimes, such as the delivery of credit cards and fraudulently purchased merchandise. If you suspect that this has happened to you, notify your area's postal inspector.

• If you suspect official documents and identification numbers, such as passports or licenses, have been compromised, you must contact those agencies directly and follow their guidelines.

Even after you go through the process of restoring your identity, you will need to remain diligent and frequently monitor credit reports and statements to ensure your information is no longer being used illegally.