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Identity Theft – What to do if you’re a victim? Step 1 – account alerts and freezes

“Identity theft” generally involves someone fraudulently using your name, social security number or credit cards without your permission. There are many forms including using your social security number for employment, taking out loans and credit cards in your name, renting apartments, filing a false tax return to obtain a refund and even giving your name and social security number when arrested for a crime.

Being the victim of identity theft can be a very frustrating and scary event. Someone out there is pretending to be you.

Placing an initial 90-day fraud alert on your credit report with one of the national credit reporting companies (Experian, Transunion, and Equifax) is the first thing you should do if you believe you are the victim of identity theft. You can do all three or just one. (Once you place with one, the others will be notified.) The initial fraud alert notifies potential new creditors that they must take extra steps to ensure that they are dealing with you and not someone pretending to be you. The creditor will usually call you or contact you by mail. This alert stops thieves from committing more fraud.

You can place a 7-year extended fraud alert on your report. To do this, you must file a police report or a report with the Federal Trade Commission regarding the identity theft incident.

The initial fraud alert entitles you to one additional free credit report per year, and the extended alert gets you two additional reports per year.

You can also establish a security freeze on your credit report. Unlike the fraud alert, you must contact all three credit reporting agencies individually. This freeze prevents potential creditors from accessing your credit report without your express permission. Typically, creditors check your credit report before extending credit, so the freeze effectively stops anyone pretending to be you from opening new accounts. If you are the victim of identity theft, placing the freeze is usually free. If you’re not a victim, then there may be a nominal charge for placing a freeze. Forty-seven states have rules for how to place a freeze. The credit reporting company can help your navigate those rules.

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Active duty or retired Servicemembers and their ID card holder Family Members may be eligible for free legal assistance. To find a legal assistance office near you, call your nearest military installation or go to http://legalassistance.law.af.mil/content/locator.php.

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Mary Benzinger is the Army Legal Assistance Attorney at the Pentagon Joint Legal Assistance Office, Washington, D.C.