Last week we discussed precautions you can take to help prevent becoming a victim of identity theft. This week we will look at immediate action steps you should take if you discover you have become a victim of identity theft.

To minimize your losses, act fast. Contact, in this order:

• Your credit card companies

• Your bank

• The three major credit bureaus

• Local, state, or federal law enforcement authorities

Credit card companies are getting better at detecting fraud, but the responsibility to notify them of lost or stolen cards is still yours. If you do so within 30 days after you discover the loss, you won't be responsible for more than $50 per card in fraudulent charges. Ask that the accounts be closed at your request, and open new accounts with password protection. Follow up your initial creditor contacts with letters indicating the date you reported the loss or theft.

If your debit (ATM) card is lost or stolen, you won't be held responsible for any unauthorized withdrawals if you report the loss before it's used. Otherwise, the extent of your liability depends on how quickly you report the loss.

• If you report the loss within two business days after you notice the card is missing, you'll be held liable for up to $50 of unauthorized withdrawals

• If you fail to report the loss within two days after you notice the card is missing, you can be held responsible for up to $500 in unauthorized withdrawals.

• If you fail to report an unauthorized transfer or withdrawal that's posted on your bank statement within 60 days after the statement is mailed to you, you risk unlimited loss.

If your checkbook is lost or stolen, stop payment on any outstanding checks, then close the account and open a new one. Dispute any fraudulent checks accepted by merchants in order to prevent collection activity against you. And notify the check-guarantee bureaus:

Certegy (formerly Equifax-Telecredit), Check Rite, ChexSystems, CrossCheck, NPC,

SCAN, TeleCheck

If your credit cards have been lost or stolen, call the fraud number of any one of the three national credit reporting agencies:

1. Equifax

(888) 766-0008

2. Experian

(888) 397-3742

3. TransUnion

(800) 680-7289

You need to call only one of the three; the one you call is required to contact the other two.

Next, place a fraud alert on your credit report. Once a fraud alert has been placed on your credit report, any user of your report is required to verify your identity before extending any existing credit or issuing new credit in your name. If you discover fraudulent transactions on your credit reports, contest them through the credit bureaus. Do so in writing, and provide a copy of the identity theft report you file. You should also contest the fraudulent transaction with the merchant, bank, or creditor who reported the information to the credit bureau. Both the credit bureaus and those who provide information to them are responsible for correcting fraudulent information on your credit report.

You should file a report about the theft with a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency. Once you've filed the report, get a copy of it because you may need to provide it to banks or creditors before they'll forgive any unauthorized transactions. Write down the name and contact information of the investigator who took your report, and give it to creditors, banks, or credit bureaus that may need to verify your case.

Contact your friendly home town banker for more ways to recover from identity theft.

This Week's Circulars

Recommended for you