How To

How-To Guide: Stop Credit Fraud & Identity Theft

Identity theft and credit fraud encompass everything from using someone’s credit card without his or her knowledge to getting loans and even jobs in another person’s name.

The crime is costly and time-consuming: The average victim spends at least $400 out of pocket and at least 40 hours dealing with administrative hassles. So to make sure that you can avoid problems before they happen, we’ve tapped several helpful worksheets from the Fool’s former personal finance service, Motley Fool Green Light. Here are the steps to take to protect your credit reputation and recover more quickly if your information falls into the wrong hands.

(Note that all of the worksheets below are in PDF format.)

1. Pull your reports.
Any signs of credit tampering will probably first show up on your credit report. By employing some strategic timing and getting your credit reports at http://www.annualcreditreport.com/, you can set up a simple — and free! — credit-watch system with Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion.

2. Protect yourself offline.
Become a smaller target by opting out of the marketing machine that sends you preapproved credit card offers, catalogs, and other junk mail. We’ve got your call list, as well as other tips for staying safe offline, in the “Silence the Sales Pitches” worksheet.

3. Guard your virtual self.
The unseen predator can do a lot of damage. Make your way through the tips on our “Evade Cyber Crime” worksheet to create a virtual Fort Knox around your cyber-self.

4. Get into credit-triage mode.
An inventory of your financial accounts is like a credit-fraud “evacuation box.” Only this one will get you out of a potential mess by stopping a thief in his or her tracks before any real damage can be done. Download and fill out the “Financial Account Inventory” worksheet, and make copies to keep in a safe place at work and home.

5. Perform damage control.
If you do become a credit-fraud victim, acting quickly can help hasten your recovery. The “Identity Fraud Damage Control” worksheet will help you spot the warning signs and will walk you through the recovery process.