What to Do When Items are Stolen from Your Car

Dear Experian,

Last night, a fairly sophisticated ring apparently swept through my neighborhood stealing from cars. Unfortunately, my wallet was stolen with my driver's license, and yes, stupidly, my Social Security card. Worse, an external hard drive was also taken that had tons of personal, financial information. While much of it was in a password protected document, there was also several years' worth of statements from many of my accounts. What is the best way to protect yourself if you feel someone may have every bit of information they would need including account numbers, Social Security numbers, etc? How can you feel secure beyond the initial one year security alert?


Dear EER,

The first thing you should do is notify the police that your car was broken into and that the items were stolen. A police report is a vital document in recovering from any subsequent account fraud or other crimes using your identity.

Because the thieves may have your existing account numbers, the next step should be to notify your creditors so they can take steps to protect the accounts. They will probably issue new cards for you with new account numbers.

The third step is adding a temporary security alert to your credit history and getting a free copy of your credit report. If there is no sign of new account fraud, you may decide to let the alert expire after twelve months.

If, during that time, there is any attempt to commit new account fraud, you can provide a copy of the police report and have a seven-year victim statement added to your credit report.

The alerts will help protect you from new credit account fraud. You still may be at risk of other types of fraud that do not involve accessing a credit report. Payday loans, use of existing account numbers, employment fraud, or online auction fraud are examples.

At this time, there is little you can do to protect yourself from those types of fraud. All you can do is be diligent. If there are any signs — such as unrecognized charges on your accounts or calls from a collection agency — you can respond to the business with the police report and any other documentation you collect, and ask them to close the fraudulent accounts and correct their records.

Sadly, you've learned your lesson. Now you are helping remind others of the importance of observing a very un-sophisticated fraud prevention rule: never leave sensitive information or expensive computer equipment in your car, whether it is parked at the mall or in your own driveway.

Thanks for asking.
The "Ask Experian" team