Even if you only think you have been the victim of identity theft, it is imperative that you take action immediately to stop the fraudulent use of your good name and financial accounts.
Keep detailed records of everything that you do regarding the identity theft: names of people you talk to, date and time of conversation, copies of what you mail or fax to anyone. Notes written while the facts are fresh in your mind are much more substantial than guesses will be later.
• Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Although they do not have the authority to bring criminal cases, the FTC assists victims of identity theft by providing information to help them resolve the financial and other problems that can result from identity theft.
Call the FTC at 1-877-ID-THEFT (1-877-438-4338) or go to the FTC on-line at www.ftc.gov, click on ID Theft listed under the Quick Finder section.
File an on-line complaint form with the FTC and keep a printed copy, as this will be used to create an Identity Theft Report.
• File a report with the police in the jurisdiction where the theft happened, or in your city if you are not sure where it occurred. Keep a copy of this also as it, too, is part of the Identity Theft Report.
If the police will not make a report, document the information that you attempted to follow the procedures recommended by the Federal Trade Commission, including dates and names.
• Cancel your credit cards. Call the issuer(s) immediately. Many companies have 24-hour toll-free numbers to deal with such emergencies; the number is on your monthly statement. When you get new cards with new account numbers, request that your good credit history be continued on the new card.
Report the loss to the fraud department of the bank where you have your checking and savings accounts. Ask about the next steps regarding your accounts, including your ATM or debit card.
Note: Be sure to obtain a written statement for each credit card and bank account stating that it is closed and that you are not liable for fraudulent charges on this account.
Generally, if your credit card is lost or stolen, federal law protects you from owing more than $50 per card. But only if you report that the card was lost or stolen within two days of discovering the loss or theft. If you suspect any fraudulent purchases, you may be asked to sign a statement under oath that you did not make the purchase(s) in question.
Report a missing driver license to your state department of motor vehicles. Additionally, change your home and car locks if your keys were taken; change your security codes as well.
• Call the fraud departments of the credit bureaus to place an initial (90 day) Fraud Alert on your account. Contact all three directly. Even though they are required to contact the other two, you can be sure it is done quickly by calling them all yourself.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; http://www.equifax.com/home/; 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
The Identity Theft Report, made up of the FTC complaint form and the police report, entitles you to the following protections:
– permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report
– ensure that debts do not reappear on your credit report
– prevent a company from continuing to try and collect debts that result from identity theft
– place an extended fraud alert on your credit report (up to seven years)
• Obtain the three free credit reports you are entitled to after placing the fraud alerts with the credit bureaus.
Signs of Identity Theft include:
Unknown accounts that you did not open
Higher balances on your existing accounts
Inquiries for credit applications you did not apply for
Addresses for places you have never lived
Write to the credit bureaus to correct the items attributed to the fraud. Include a copy of the Identity Theft Report as well as the statements from the creditors that you obtained after reporting the theft and closing the accounts. The FTC website has sample letters and suggestions for contacting the credit bureaus.
After 90 days, you will need to contact the credit bureaus to extend the Initial Fraud Alert. For the next year, continue to monitor your credit reports to assure that no more fraudulent activity has occurred and that previously corrected items do not reappear.
Finally, studies show that the average victim of identity theft spends 97 hours cleaning up the aftermath when existing accounts were stolen. For new accounts opened by the thief, it takes an average of 231 hours. And even though the victim is not liable for fraudulent purchases, the out of pocket expenses for photocopying, postage, travel and the purchase of court records, can run into hundreds, even thousands of dollars.
Immediate, decisive action with some time spent right now can save you much more time, and possibly money, later.