What to Do if You're a Victim of Identity Theft

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If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible, and keep records of

Immediate Steps

 

If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible, and keep records of your conversations and copies of all correspondence. You also should get a copy of the FTC publication, Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, a comprehensive guide that describes what to do, your legal rights, how to handle specific problems you may encounter on the way to clearing your name, and what to watch for in the future. For more information, see www.ftc.gov/idtheft.

 

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

 

Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You need to contact only one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too.

 

-- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

-- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

-- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

 

Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you’re entitled to order free copies of your credit reports, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your SSN will appear on your credit reports. Once you get your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain. Check that information like your SSN, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, contact the consumer reporting companies to get it removed. Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

 

-- Initial Alert: An initial alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days. You may ask that an initial fraud alert be placed on your credit report if you suspect you have been, or could be, a victim of identity theft. An initial alert is appropriate if your wallet has been stolen or if you’ve been taken in by a “phishing” scam. When you place an initial fraud alert on your credit report, you’re entitled to one free credit report from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.

 

-- Extended Alert: An extended alert stays on your credit report for seven years. You can have an extended alert placed on your credit report if you’ve been a victim of identity theft and you provide the consumer reporting company with an “identity theft report.” When you place an extended alert on your credit report, you’re entitled to two free credit reports within 12 months from each of the three nationwide consumer reporting companies.

 

To place either of these alerts on your credit report, or to have them removed, you will be required to provide appropriate proof of your identity: that may include your SSN, name, address, and other personal information requested by the consumer reporting company.

 

When a business sees the alert on your credit report, they must verify your identity before issuing you credit. As part of this verification process, the business may try to contact you directly. This may cause some delays if you’re trying to obtain credit. To compensate for possible delays, you may wish to include a cell phone number, where you can be reached easily, in your alert. Remember to keep all contact information in your alert current.

 

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

 

Call and speak to someone in the security or fraud department of each company. 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.

 

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 SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

 

If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or on fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the forms to dispute those transactions.

 

For charges and debits on existing accounts, ask the representative to send you the company’s fraud dispute forms. If the company doesn’t have special forms, write a letter to dispute the fraudulent charges or debits. In either case, write to the company at the address given for “billing inquiries,” NOT the address for sending your payments.

 

For new unauthorized accounts, ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit. If not, ask the representative to send you the company’s fraud dispute forms. If the company already has reported these accounts or debts on your credit report, dispute this fraudulent information.

 

Once you have resolved your identity theft dispute with the company, ask for a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed accounts and has discharged the fraudulent debts. This letter is your best proof if errors relating to this account reappear on your credit report or you are contacted again about the fraudulent debt.

 

Identity Theft Reports

 

An identity theft report may have two parts:

 

-- Part One is a copy of a report filed with a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency, like your local police department, your state Attorney General, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the FTC, or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. There is no federal law requiring a federal agency to take a report about identity theft; however, some state laws require local police departments to take reports. When you file a report, provide as much information as you can about the crime, including anything you know about the dates of the identity theft, the fraudulent accounts opened, and the alleged identity thief.

 

-- Part Two of an identity theft report depends on the policies of the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company). That is, they may ask you to provide information or documentation in addition to that included in the law enforcement report to verify your identity theft. They must make their request within 15 days of receiving your law enforcement report, or, if you already obtained an extended fraud alert on your credit report, the date you submit your request to the consumer reporting company for information blocking. The consumer reporting company and information provider then have 15 more days to work with you to make sure your identity theft report contains everything they need. They are entitled to take five days to review any information you give them. For example, if you give them information 11 days after they request it, they do not have to make a final decision until 16 days after they asked you for that information. If you give them any information after the 15-day deadline, they can reject your identity theft report as incomplete. You will have to resubmit your identity theft report with the correct information.

 

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

 

Then, 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 the Blue Pages of 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 can refer victims’ complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.

 

You can file a complaint online at www.ftc.gov/idtheft. If you don’t have Internet access, call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502; or write: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.

 

Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.

 

For More Information

 

The FTC publishes a series of publications about the importance of personal information privacy. To request free copies of brochures, visit ftc.gov or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357).

 

-- Avoiding Credit and Charge Card Fraud (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre07.shtm)

-- Credit Card Loss Protection Offers: They’re The Real Steal (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/lossalrt.shtm)

-- Credit, Debit and ATM Cards: What To Do If They’re Lost or Stolen (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre04.shtm)

-- Electronic Banking (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre14.shtm)

-- Fair Credit Billing (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/fcb.shtm)

-- Fair Debt Collection (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre18.shtm)

-- File-Sharing: Evaluate the Risks (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt128.shtm)

-- How Not to Get Hooked by a ‘Phishing’ Scam (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/alerts/alt127.shtm)

-- How to Dispute Credit Report Errors (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre21.shtm)

-- Site-Seeing on the Internet: A Traveler’s Guide to Cyberspace (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/tech/tec04.shtm)

-- Spyware (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/alerts/spywarealrt.shtm)

-- Your Access to Free Credit Reports (http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/consumer/credit/cre34.shtm)

 

Source of this article: FTC website at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/idtheftmini.shtm

 

 
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