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How to Get and Use Credit after Identity Theft

You will need to give some thought to how you plan to get and use credit after an identity theft. As with any theft, break-in, or personal attack, as a victim of identity theft you likely feel traumatized, fearful, and angry. You may want to avoid any experience with credit and borrowing in the future.

Recognize these feelings for what they are — feelings — and don’t give up altogether. After all, credit — though it certainly can be abused and exploited — is a powerful and sometimes indispensable tool that can help you achieve personal and financial goals that you may not be able to achieve otherwise. Adopt a strong offense and move forward with your personal goals.

Whether you’re planning to buy a house or a car or you’re simply taking advantage of a retailer’s offer for 10 percent off with a new credit account, don’t be afraid to use credit to your advantage.

Closing and reopening your accounts

Whether your accounts were broken into, stolen, or just sniffed at, change all your user IDs, passwords, and account numbers. You’ll probably have to close the accounts and reopen them. Doing so may be a hassle, but if you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you already know the meaning of hassle.

Here’s a list of which accounts to close and reopen:

  • Bank accounts: When your information is compromised, you never know if or when trouble will pop up. Changing the account numbers results in dead ends for a thief. Place an alert on the new accounts so that you’re informed when certain transactions occur or when dollar amounts are exceeded, such as a debit of more than $1,000.

  • Credit card accounts: When you contact the card companies, they’ll ask you for proper identification. (This is good — you want them to be suspicious!) They’re used to closing accounts and reopening new ones quickly and painlessly. Only reopen those accounts that you use.

  • Other accounts: Contact your Internet service provider, telephone service provider, and utility companies to alert them of the identity theft and to get new account numbers.

Altering your PINs, passwords, and radio transmissions

When you reopen your bank accounts, change your personal identification numbers (PINs), too. And when you access money at ATMs or in public places, make sure that no one can see you enter the PIN. Getting close to the machine may block the sight of someone across the street using binoculars or a camera with a telephoto lens. Using ATMs located in bank lobbies is better for your security.

Some newer credit cards use technology that allows you to make a charge by tapping your card on a reader. It is very popular in Europe, where our magnetic-strip-only cards are considered relics. If you have this type of card, a thief with a sensitive reader can get your credit card information via a radio transmission from the chip in your card. Be sure to use a transmission-blocking sleeve.

For online access to bank, credit card, bill-paying, and investment accounts, switch to a pass phrase instead of a password. A pass phrase uses a short series of words like “Mauiis#1” instead of a single password. Pass phrases tend to be longer and harder to crack. Include some capital letters, numbers, and non-letter characters for additional strength.

Changing your Social Security number and driver’s license number

If you can’t seem to shake the damage done by identity theft (because new occurrences keep popping up or collectors keep landing on you like mosquitoes), you may need to take more serious action. Consider contacting the Social Security Administration to inquire about getting a new Social Security number.

Getting a new Social Security number is a huge pain for everyone. Imagine all the places you’ve used your old number. If you go this route, you need to change all your records yourself. For more information, visit the Social Security website, check out their answers page, or call 800-772-1213 (800-325-0778 TTY for the hearing impaired).

You won’t be the first person who had to take this step. Besides the storied federal witness protection program, Social Security numbers are changed for domestic violence victims and others when warranted. But with all the emphasis on national security, changing your number isn’t easy.

A few circumstances can prevent you from changing your Social Security number. You can’t get a new Social Security number if

  • You’ve filed for bankruptcy.

  • You intend to avoid the law or your legal responsibility.

  • Your Social Security card is lost or stolen, but there’s no evidence that someone else is using your number.

Be sure to document everything. This dog can have a very long tail. You may need to dig up documentation a year or two after you thought all the dust had settled. Good written records, with names and dates, are a godsend.

While you’re at it, go to the Department of Motor Vehicles and get your driver’s license number changed, especially if someone is using yours as an ID.

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