How to report identity theft


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Identity theft can happen in many forms: bank or credit card fraud, tax-related fraud, government benefits fraud, or phone or utilities fraud, among others. Identity theft can also occur through email, social media, medical services or online shopping.


And it can happen to anyone, regardless of how old — or young — they are, where they live or what their occupation or salary is. There are steps that can be taken to reduce the risk of identity theft. Here’s how to report identity theft if you suspect there has been a breach.


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1. Reporting Identity Fraud to the FTC

One facet of the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) mission is to protect consumers. The agency is tasked with stopping deceptive or fraudulent practices in the marketplace and developing rules to make the marketplace a safe place in which to do business. There is also an education component to what the FTC does so that consumers and businesses have the information they need when they think they may have been wronged.


Reporting fraud to the FTC can be done online or by telephone. The official government website for reporting fraud is A telephone complaint can be made by calling 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. On the website, the first step to reporting identity theft is choosing the situation that led to the suspected identity theft. From there, the consumer goes through a range of prompts related to the specific situation.


For example, one situation that can be chosen is “Someone has my information or tried to use it, and I’m worried about identity theft.” Then there are questions that follow, narrowing down the specific type of suspected identity theft and creating an FTC Identity Theft Report and a recovery plan, which is a step-by-step list of what to do based on the information that was entered.

2. Contacting Your Creditors

Quick action when suspected fraud occurs is key to limiting liability for unauthorized charges on a credit account. Calling the credit card issuer as soon as the fraudulent transactions are noticed is a good first step to take. There may be a phone number printed on the back of the card for this purpose. Reviewing several past card statements carefully, identifying all that are suspected fraud and then writing a follow-up letter to the credit card issuer with these details can also be helpful.


There are federal protections provided to consumers in the case of credit card fraud. A consumer’s liability is limited to the lesser of $50 or the amount of the theft if the actual credit card was used fraudulently. If only the credit card number was used fraudulently, there is no consumer liability.


For debit card or ATM card fraud, the quicker the consumer reports the card loss, the less they are potentially liable for. A consumer is not liable for any amount if they report a missing debit or ATM card before any unauthorized charges are made. The amounts increase the longer the missing card goes unreported.

  • Maximum loss is $50 if the card is reported within two business days of the loss or theft.
  • Maximum loss is $500 if the loss or theft is reported more than two business days, but less than 60 calendar days after the account statement is sent to the account holder.
  • If the loss is reported more than 60 calendar days after the statement is sent, the account holder can be responsible for all the money taken from their account. The maximum loss can be more than the account balance if money from linked accounts was also stolen.

If the debit or ATM card number, but not the physical card, was used to make unauthorized charges, the account holder is not liable for those charges if the fraud is reported within 60 days of the account statement being sent.

3. Consider Filing a Police Report

There are some circumstances in which knowing how to file a police report for identity theft might be useful. If the victim of identity theft knows who was responsible for the fraudulent activity or they can provide evidence for an investigation, a police report might be warranted. Filing a police report might be necessary if a creditor requires the report as part of its investigation.

4. Disputing Errors Caused by Identity Theft

Sending a follow-up letter to a credit card issuer after a phone call reporting suspected fraudulent activity is a good way to make a formal dispute of any charges that were unauthorized. Include copies of any receipts that will back up the claim of fraudulent use of the account, keeping original receipts and a copy of the dispute letter.


This letter should be sent to the address provided for billing inquiries, which is usually different from the address payments are sent to, and should be sent so that the creditor receives it within 60 days after the first bill with the error reached the account holder. It’s a good idea to send such a letter by certified mail, asking for a return receipt providing proof of what the creditor received. The FTC provides a sample dispute letter on its website.

5. Notifying Credit Bureaus

Each of the three credit bureaus, Experian, TransUnion and Equifax, can place a fraud alert on a consumer’s credit report if they are notified of the suspected fraud or identity theft. Contacting just one of the credit bureaus is fine; that bureau will contact the other two automatically.


Requesting to freeze or lock a credit report can be done by contacting each credit bureau and putting in a request. Putting a freeze on a credit report blocks all access to the report, making it more difficult for a bad actor to use information fraudulently. Credit freezes are regulated by state laws, and credit bureaus are required to offer credit freezes at no charge. A credit lock also acts to protect a consumer’s financial information from potential identity thieves, but it is a program offered by an individual company, which may charge a monthly fee for the service. Credit locks are not regulated by state laws.


If errors show up on a credit report, the consumer can contact that credit bureau to file a dispute to their credit report. All three major credit bureaus provide information on their websites for filing a dispute. It can take up to 30 days for the results of any investigation to be available to the account holder.


Federal law allows consumers to request a credit report at no charge from each of the three credit bureaus annually. A helpful way to check a credit report more than just once a year is to request a free report every four months, alternating credit bureaus each time.

The Takeaway

Keeping credit accounts secure is a recommended practice. And using two-factor or multi-factor authentication can keep an account more secure by requiring two pieces of information that only the account holder should know. If you receive a notification from a creditor of a failed login attempt, it’s a good idea to change your password.


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6 investment risk management strategies


Risk is everywhere, every day. Some people take steps to protect themselves and manage that risk. Others leave it up to luck.

The same holds true when it comes to building wealth for the future. Some investors focus strictly on returns and how fast they can grow their money. Others protect themselves against the inevitability of a correction or a bear market by using various risk management strategies.

That cautiousness doesn’t mean they’re paralyzed with fear, stuffing money under the mattress or sticking only to the safest investments they can find. The purpose of investment risk management is to ensure losses never exceed an investor’s acceptable boundaries.

It’s about understanding the level of risk a person is comfortable taking and building an investment portfolio with appropriate investments that also will work toward achieving that individual’s goals.

An investor’s risk tolerance is usually determined by three main factors:

Risk capacity: How much can the investor afford to lose without it affecting actual financial security? Risk capacity can vary based on age, personal financial goals and an investor’s timeline for reaching those goals.

Need: How much will these investments have to earn to get the investor where they want to be? An investor who is depending heavily on investments may be faced with a careful balancing act between taking too much risk and not taking enough.

Emotions: How will the investor react to bad news (With fear and panic? Or clarity and control?), and what effect will those emotions have on investing decisions? Unfortunately, this can be hard to predict until it happens.

Why is risk management important? Those who are able to preserve their capital during difficult periods will have a larger base to grow from when good times return.

With that in mind, here are some strategies investors sometimes use to manage the risk in their portfolio.

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You’ve probably heard the expression “don’t put all your eggs in one basket.” Portfolio diversification — allocating money across many asset classes and sectors — could help with avoiding disaster in a downturn. If one stock tanks, others in different classes might not be so hard hit.

Investors might want to consider owning two or more mutual funds that represent different styles, such as large-cap, mid-cap, small-cap and international stocks, as well as keeping a timeline-appropriate percentage in bonds. Those nearing retirement might consider adding a fund with income-producing securities.

But investors should beware of overlap. Investors often think they’re diversified because they own a few different mutual funds, but if they take a closer look, they realize those funds are all invested in the same or similar stocks.

If those companies or sectors struggle, investors could lose a big chunk of their money. Investors could avoid overlap by simply looking at a fund’s prospectus online.

To further diversify, investors also may want to think beyond stocks and bonds. Exchange-traded funds, cryptocurrency, commodities and real estate investment trusts (REITs) are just a few of the possibilities.

Investors could also diversify the way they invest. Long gone are the days when everyone turned to a stockbroker or a financial advisor to grow their money.

An investor might have a 401(k) through work but also open a traditional IRA or Roth IRA through an online financial company.



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One of the easiest ways to help reduce the volatility in a portfolio is to keep some percentage allocated to cash and cash equivalents.

This may keep an investor from having to sell other assets in times of need (which could result in a loss if the market is down).

The appropriate amount of cash to hold may vary depending on an investor’s timeline and goals. If too much money is kept in cash for the long-haul, it might not earn enough to keep up with inflation.

There are other options, however, including:


The goal of rebalancing is to lower the risk of severe loss by keeping a portfolio well-diversified. Over time, different assets have different returns or losses based on the movements of the market. Rebalancing helps get things back to the mix the investor wants based on personal risk tolerance.

Rebalancing can often feel counterintuitive because it can mean letting go of investments that have appreciated in value (the ones that have been fun to watch) and buying investments that are declining in value.

Forgetful investors may even be able to sign up for automatic rebalancing. Without rebalancing, a portfolio’s mix may become stock heavy or sector heavy, which may significantly increase risk.

Buying bonds

Unless investors are regularly rebalancing their portfolio (or are having it done automatically), their mix may be skewing more toward stocks than they think. Those who are concerned about market volatility might want to rebuild the bond side of their portfolio.

Bonds might not be considered the safe haven they once were, but bonds with a lower duration can still play a defensive role in a diversified portfolio. And bonds often can be used to produce a steady stream of income that can be reinvested or used for living expenses.

Municipal bonds can generate tax-free income. Bonds, bond ETFs and treasuries can all serve a purpose when the market is going down.


The beta of a stock is a measure of the interrelationship between the stock and the stock market. A beta of one, for example, means the stock will react in tandem with the S&P 500. If the beta is below one, the stock is less volatile than the overall market.

A beta above one indicates the stock will have a more marked reaction. So replacing high beta stocks with lower beta names could help take some of the menace out of market fluctuations.


Credit: Tim Evans / Unsplash


For those looking for quick returns, picking the “right” stock and selling it at the “right” time is everything. Using a dollar-cost averaging strategy is different. It’s all about patience, discipline, and looking at the long term — and it can help investors keep emotions out of the process.

With dollar-cost averaging, investors contribute the same amount at regular intervals (usually once or twice a month) to an investment account. When the market is down, the money buys more shares. When the market is up, it buys fewer.

But because markets generally rise over time, investors who can keep their hands off the stash might build a pretty nice pot of money over the long term — especially compared to what they might get from a savings account or money market account.

Some investors hand over their cash every month and don’t pay much attention to where their 401(k) plan administrator or the bank with their IRA might put it. But carefully choosing the companies represented in a portfolio — focusing on those with sustained growth over time — could help make this strategy even stronger.


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For years, financial professionals have mostly labeled investors’ risk tolerance as “aggressive,” “moderate,” or “conservative.”

Pretty self-explanatory. But it also can be pretty subjective. The term “moderate,” for example, might mean one thing to a young investor and another to an aging financial professional.

An investor might not even know how they’ll react to a market slump until it happens. Or a person might feel aggressive after inheriting some money but conservative after paying a big medical bill.

To help with clarity, many in the financial industry are now using software programs that can help pinpoint an investor’s attitude about risk, based on a series of questions.

They can also better determine how an investor’s current portfolio matches up to a particular “risk score.”

And they can analyze and stress test the portfolio to show just how the client’s investments might do in a downturn similar to the ones in 2000 or 2008.

Identifying an investor’s current position and goals might make it easier to create a more effective plan for the future. This could involve identifying the proper mix of assets and realigning existing assets to relieve any pressure points in the portfolio.


“Buy low, sell high!” is a popular mantra in the financial industry, but actually making the concept work can be tricky. Who decides what’s high and what’s low?

Value investors implement their own margin of safety by deciding that they’ll only purchase a stock if its prevailing market price is significantly below what they believe is its intrinsic value.

For example, an investor who uses a 20% margin of safety would be drawn to a stock with an estimated intrinsic value of $100 a share but a price of $80 or less per share.

The greater the margin of safety, the higher the potential for solid returns and the lower the downside risk.

Because risk is subjective, every investor’s margin of safety might be different — maybe 20% or 30% or even 40%. It depends on what that person is comfortable with.

Determining intrinsic value can take some research. A stock’s price-to-earnings ratio (P/E) is a good place to start. Investors can find that number by dividing a company’s share price by its net income, then compare the result to the P/E ratio posted by other companies in the same industry.

The lower the number is in comparison with the competition, the “cheaper” the stock is.

The higher the number, the more “expensive” it is.


A maximum loss plan is a method investors can use to cautiously manage their asset allocation. It’s designed to keep investors from making bad decisions based on their anxiety about movements in the market.

It gives investors some control over “maximum drawdown,” a measurement of decline from an asset’s peak value to its lowest point over a period of time, and it can be used to evaluate portfolio risk.

This strategy calculates a personal maximum loss limit and uses that percentage to determine appropriate asset allocation, but that asset allocation won’t necessarily be a good fit for someone else. It isn’t a one-size-fits-all plan.

Here are the basic steps:

1. Based on historic market numbers, the investor chooses an assumed probable maximum loss for equities in the stock market. For example, since 1926, there have been only three calendar years in which the S&P 500’s total return was worse than -30%. The worst year ever was 1931, at -44.20%. So the investor might choose 40% as a probable maximum loss number, or maybe 35% or 30%.

2. Next, based on personal feelings about market losses, the investor chooses the maximum amount they are willing to lose in the coming year. Again, it’s up to the individual to determine this number. It could be 20% or 30%, or somewhere in between.

3. Finally, the investor divides that personal portfolio maximum loss number by the assumed probable maximum loss number (for example, .20 divided by .35 = .57 or 57%).

In this example, the investor’s target equity asset allocation would be 57% when market valuations are average (or fair value).

The investor might raise or lower the numbers — and be more aggressive or conservative — depending on what’s happening in the market.





Whatever strategy an investor chooses, risk management is critical to keeping hard-earned savings safer and losses to a minimum.

Remember: As losses get larger, the return that’s necessary just to get back to where you were, also increases. It takes an 11% gain to recover from a 10% loss. But it takes a 100% gain to recover from a 50% loss.

That makes playing defense every bit as important as playing offense.

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This article originally appeared on and was syndicated by

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