How-to Guide: Stop Credit Fraud and 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. Download the "Credit Report Patrol" worksheet to note any funny business and schedule regular check-ins. By employing some strategic timing and getting your credit reports at, 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.

For more on protecting yourself from fraud, read about:

Read/Post Comments (3) | Recommend This Article (8)

Comments from our Foolish Readers

Help us keep this a respectfully Foolish area! This is a place for our readers to discuss, debate, and learn more about the Foolish investing topic you read about above. Help us keep it clean and safe. If you believe a comment is abusive or otherwise violates our Fool's Rules, please report it via the Report this Comment Report this Comment icon found on every comment.

  • Report this Comment On November 08, 2011, at 1:31 PM, Dresden83 wrote:

    # 2 is the best and what I recommend to my clients. It's important for consumers to opt out of the credit notification list. This is a federal service which will stop pre-qualification mail from showing up in your mail box. Often times these letters will go lost, stolen resulting in fraud and theft. It's always best to opt out according to the steps in # 2 IMO. Dresden @

  • Report this Comment On May 06, 2014, at 5:08 PM, cynical1 wrote:

    Good article. I further recommend: #1 creating automated email alerts for every charge or transaction made on existing credit cards, and 2. freeze your credit at all 3 of the credit agencies ( Equifax, Experian & Trans Union). It's not too expensive and if you need someone to access your reports (like opening a new credit account or financing a new car purchase) your reports can be "thawed" in just a few minutes by telephone.

  • Report this Comment On August 19, 2014, at 2:28 PM, identitytheftaid wrote:

    Always remember the basics such as shredding sensitive documents such as credit card statements etc. Get a secure mail box with a lock if possible. Keep your mobile device software updated to avoid security holes which hackers can use to gain access to accounts and passwords. We also always recommend that consumers check with their banks and credit card companies to see if they offer some level of free credit monitoring or identity theft protection. Not everyone agrees that credit monitoring is necessary, but having a system in place to, at minimum, send you an alert if something strange is detected on your credit report is a solid practice in our book. If you're looking to learn more about other methods identity thieves use to steal your information, check out our page here You'll be surprised at what you might not be doing which is making you vulnerable to id theft.

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