If you suspect that your personal information has been used to commit fraud or theft, the Federal Trade Commission recommends you take the following four steps right away.

1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports.

Contact any one of the nationwide credit reporting companies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. The company you call is required to contact the other two credit reporting companies, who will then place an alert on their versions of your report.

2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been meddled with or opened fraudulently.

Contact the security or fraud department of each company where you know, or believe, accounts have been opened or used fraudulently. Follow up in writing and include copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents. It's important to notify credit card companies and banks in writing. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep a file of your correspondence and enclosures.

If one of your accounts has been tampered with, Community Bank has access to certified Resolution Specialists who help recover your identity to pre-theft status. 

When you open new accounts, use new personal identification numbers (PINs) and passwords. Avoid using easily available information, like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your phone number or a series of consecutive numbers. TIP: At Community Bank of the Chesapeake, we offer 24/7 access to a secure online wallet where you can safely store any significant personal data!

3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

Get a copy of the police report or, at the very least, the number of the report. It can help you deal with creditors who need proof of the crime. If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a "Miscellaneous Incidents" report or try another jurisdiction, like your state police. You also can check with your state Attorney General's office to find out if state law requires the police to take reports for identity theft. Check your telephone directory for the phone number or check www.naag.org for a list of state Attorneys General.

4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC also can refer your complaint to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws that the FTC enforces.

You can file a complaint online at ftc.gov/idtheft. If you don't have Internet access, call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338); TTY 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580. 

However, even with alert systems, early warnings and precautions, there is a proliferation of skilled identity thieves out there. They are good at what they do and anyone can get caught up in an identity theft. So be prepared and protect your identity, it’s who you are!