Identity theft is when another person uses your personal information. Often they use it to obtain credit or make purchases without your permission or knowledge. Although we all like to think, “It won’t happen to me!" the truth is, it can. Naturally, your best bet is prevention, but even the most high-tech security system can be by-passed, and so can your best efforts to prevent it. Here is some information on getting your identity back if you suspect it has been “stolen.”

What should you do if you suspect your identity is being used fraudulently? First, you need to contact the three credit bureaus. They are: Experian (formerly TRW), Equifax, and Trans Union. Tell them that you suspect your credit is being used fraudulently, then request that your file be flagged with a fraud alert. The alert will be active for 90-180 days, although you may want to extend it up to seven years. It is always a good idea to add a victim’s report with it, stating “My ID has been used to obtain credit fraudulently.”

You also need to contact your bank and credit card companies to let them know you suspect ID theft. Have the credit card company issue you a new card and account number, and file the old account as “closed at consumer’s request.”

Another step is to get familiar with your credit report. Once you contact a credit bureau, they will send you a current report if you report fraud. Continue to get a new credit report at least once a month to see if fraudulent charges have been added.

Also, keep up with what’s going on with your case; don’t be afraid to be persistent with questions. Know that these measures will not prevent all fraudulent activity but will greatly reduce your liability. At most you will be liable for $50 if you file a report right away.

If credit bureaus and/or creditors are not being cooperative about removing the fraudulent entries from your credit report, you may want to seek legal aid.

• Never pay a bill that is a result of fraudulent activity.
• Do not cover fraudulently written or cashed checks.
• DO NOT file for bankruptcy; your credit report should not be affected permanently.

No legal action should be taken against you; if any merchant, financial company, or collection agency suggests otherwise, restate that you are willing to cooperate, but don’t let them pressure you into paying for fraudulent charges.

Remember, identity theft can happen to you!! Protect your personal and financial information to prevent becoming a victim. But, if it happens, you are only liable for a maximum of $50 of the fraudulent charges if you report your case in a timely manner.