Be sure to download the Identity Theft Help Kit to go along with this article.
There are a lot of different degrees of identity theft that range from someone using your credit card, to someone getting all of your pertinent info and running up large bills and/or or other fraudulent activity.
Having your identity stolen can be like having a deadly disease. The longer you wait to address the problem, the worse it can get, and the more difficult it can become to fix the problem. So you will want to move quickly (finishing this process in a week to a week and a half maximum).
First of all, don’t panic and remain positive. There are a lot of tools and resources to help you. In this article, we will discuss the avenues that you should take (In four stages).
Now, from the first time you find out that something is array, make a note of everything. Make a note of when you found out, and all of the communication that you have had (such as getting a call from a debt collector on a debt that you don't owe).
Write down names, phone numbers and addresses and even brief summaries of conversations if necessary. You can even separate these conversations and/or incidences into different files if you get contacted by more than one company. This will all come in handy later on (especially in the case of law enforcement going after the individuals responsible).
NOTE: Make sure that you take the following steps that are outlined before you call your local police because:
1. This way, you have stopped the bleeding immediately and taken care of everything on your end, and
2. It has been reported that in many cases the police don't really want to get involved, so it is good to have as much evidence as possible before going to them.
Stage One: Shut Credit Avenues Down
Contact your companies
Call any bank or lending company that is involved to stop all fraudulent activity. Report stolen debit, ATM, prepaid, department store, calling card, gas station, or any other card companies you do business with. Also report stolen checks and close unauthorized savings and checking accounts. This will probably mean canceling credit cards and issuing you new ones.
Let them know your situation, have them change your PIN numbers and passwords, and have them contact you if anything suspicious happens from that point forward. If this has happened on a large scale (or if you believe that the thief has all of your critical info, rather than just access to one of your accounts), then you need to contact all of the companies you do business with.
You can also request your bank(s) to change the numbers on your current accounts or let you open new accounts. You can also request that your bank require a password for any withdrawal of money. Make sure that you use a name that no one would know.
But, don't automatically close all untouched accounts, because once you begin the process of identity theft recovery, you may have trouble opening new accounts if need be. Just keep those companies informed. Also, change all of your online passwords. Sometimes an identity thief can get your info through password protected accounts.
Execute a fraud alert
This is one of the tactics that was discussed in an earlier article on preventing identity theft. By placing a fraud alert on your credit report, you can help stop an identity thief from opening any more accounts using your name.
Contact one of the three major Credit Reporting Agencies to utilize a fraud alert.
-- TransUnion: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790; 1-800-680-7289
-- Equifax: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241; 1-800-525-6285
-- Experian: P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013; 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)
You only have to contact one. This company will then contact the other two (as they are required) to duplicate your request. All three companies will send you confirmation of your fraud alert. If you have not received confirmation in 15 days from any of the three, then call them directly. Your alert will be good for 90 days, but can be extended for up to 7 years.
Doing this fraud alert will entitle you to receive a credit report from each credit reporting agency. Make sure you request these reports. These reports will show all fraudulent activity that has occurred. Read over these reports carefully leaving no stone unturned. A credit inquiry from a foreign source can provide evidence that another person has filed a credit application under your name.
Now, when you execute a fraud alert, you will be limited to some of the online services at the Social Security Administration website. But that will not be a problem, as you can still access what you need offline.
Alert a check verification service
If you've had a bank account or your checks stolen, then report it to a check verification service along with your bank. Your bank can also notify its check verification service. Check verification services are listed below. Authorize stop payments on all outstanding checks that you haven't written. Also, if you get a check rejected, then find out what verification service that they used.
When you call one of these verification services, tell them to alert all of the retailers that use their database not to accept those stolen or lost checks.
-- Chexsystems: 1-800-428-9623
-- TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898 or 1-800-927-0188
-- Equifax Check Systems: 1-800-437-5120
-- SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
-- CrossCheck: 1-707-586-0551
-- International Check Services: 1-800-526-5380
-- National Check Fraud Service: 1-843-571-2143
Stage Two: Officially document your identity theft
First, start contacting any company that was involved for information that can help you to prove that your identity has been stolen (You will probably have to verify your identity).
You have a right to obtain documents that correspond to accounts opened with your personal information or fraudulent transactions made on your accounts. Debt collectors must at minimum give you the name of the creditor and the amount of debt that was incurred falsely in your name.
Sometimes a company might be reluctant to give you documents, but in the majority of instances they will tell you how much has been charged in your name and how long the abuse has been going on. This info can give you an idea of exactly where and when the theft took place.
You may have to request this type of info in writing. If they ask you for a police report or an ID Theft Affidavit in order to release the more detailed documentation, then move on to the next step and come back to this after you contact the police.
Go to the Federal Trade Commission
File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission using the information that you have gathered thus far.
You can use the FTC's online complaint form or call their identity theft hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY/TDD: 1-866-653-4261; or you can write to Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
And make sure that you call the hotline to update your complaint if any new info or issues arise.
By filing a complaint with the FTC, you provide critical info that can help officials track down identity thieves. The FTC can also refer victims' complaints to other government agencies for further action such as investigating companies for FTC law violations.
Stage Three: Alert the authorities
Notify the U.S. State Department
Report stolen or lost passports to the U.S. State Department (if you are in the U.S.). This can be done online or you can write to U.S. Department of State, Passport Services, Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section, 1111 19th St. NW Ste 500, Washington DC 20036
If your passport is stolen or lost outside of the U.S., then report it ASAP to the nearest U.S. consulate or embassy, and also the local police.
Contact the Social Security Administration
Contact the Social Security Administration whether your card has been stolen or not if you feel someone may have your number. Often times, an identity thief, by having access to your accounts can obtain your social security number. It is almost impossible to get a new social security number these days, so be prepared to monitor the use of your SSN.
You can call the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 ; TTY/TDD 1-800-325-0778 (M-F, 7am-7pm)
Order a new social security card if yours has been lost or stolen. You are allowed to get three replacement cards in a year’s time, and 10 during your lifetime.
You can also try to order a copy of your Social Security Statement to ensure that your earnings are correct.
Go to the police
Create an Identity Theft Report with the local police or the place where the identity theft happened. An Identity Theft Report is a police report that contains specific details of an identity theft. Having an identity theft report entitles you to stop fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report, make sure that they don't reappear on your report and it will stop companies from collecting those fraudulent debts.
Go to local police and tell them that you want to file a report about your identity theft. When you meet them in person, make sure you bring your FTC complaint, any supporting documentation, and the following cover letter to explain why an identity theft report is important. Be persistent, as having this police report can make things easier for you. If they refuse, then ask if you can file a report over the phone or on the web. If they don’t want to let you file a report about your identity theft, ask if you can file a Miscellaneous Incident report.
You can also try going to the state police or check with your Attorney General’s office to see if state law requires the police to take reports of identity theft. The National Association of Attorneys General is a good place to find a list of state Attorneys General and you can also check the blue pages of your telephone book.
Now if you do get to file a report, make sure that you attach a copy of your FTC complaint to it. Make sure that you get a copy of this report. If by any chance that your officer can not give you a copy of the official police report, have him/her sign your FTC Complaint and write the police report number in the “Law Enforcement Report” section. This will constitute your Identity Theft Report.
Doing a police report in person is the best route. However, if you have to do an automated report then make sure that you complete the “Automated Report Information” section on your FTC Complaint form and attach any filing conformation from the police.
After you are done dealing with the local law enforcement (whether you filed a report with them or not) then it is time to move to the next step.
Stage Four: Find and contest fraudulent charges
First, you will want to go through all of your current bills and make sure that you have all of them, and that they are correct. If there is a bill missing it could mean that someone has stolen it or changed the billing address. So you will want to check on this immediately.
You will now want to fill out Identity Theft Affidavits with Fraudulent Account Statements attached . This will be sent to all of your creditors to contest the fraudulent charges on your accounts. Many creditors ask that you send the affidavit within 2 weeks of finding out about your identity theft.
Sending an Identity Theft Affidavit with a Fraudulent Account Statement attached will allow companies to investigate the fraud and make a decision on your claim. If you have an Identity Theft Report (police report with attached FTC complaint), then send this to your creditors also. If you do not, then just send the ID Affidavit, the Fraudulent Account Statement and your FTC complaint.
NOTE: When you send the Affidavit, with the Fraudulent Account Statement attached, make sure that you only send the Fraudulent Account Statement that applies to that particular company. Don’t send a statement regarding Bank Harry to Bank Sally! So remember, the ID Theft Affidavit will be the same, but the Fraudulent Account Statement attached will be company specific.
Also, do not send the affidavit to the police or any government institution. This info is to be sent to the creditors to dispute the charges.
If any creditor or company informed you that you needed a police report to get them to release certain information regarding your identity theft (explained in stage two), then now is the time to send them the report to get the documents you need!
Also, if you come upon any new pertinent information, make sure that you call the FTC Hotline and update your complaint.
Don’t take no lip
Don’t let any creditor coerce you into making any payments for debts that you don’t owe. Identity theft victims should never have actions taken against them and their credit rating should never be affected permanently. If any creditors threaten you, immediately contact the Bureau of Consumer Protection. Write to Federal Trade Commission, Bureau of Consumer Protection, 55 E Monroe St #1437, Chicago IL 60603. Or call 312-353-4423
If any judgment is entered in your name for any action taken or for debts that you don’t owe, then contact the court where the judgment was entered and report your identity theft status. If they persist, contact the Department of Justice and let them know your situation. You can also write to U.S. Department of Justice, 950 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington DC 20530-0001. Or Call 202-514-2000.
If you have done all of this, and the problem still exist, then you will need to seek legal advice to help you fight against wrongful criminal or civil charges. If so, find a lawyer who specializes in consumer law. You can call your local legal aid office or bar association for help on this.
Make sure that you hold on to all of your documentation. This way, if a problem with your identity pops up again, you will be able to nip it in the bud a lot faster.
Identity theft can be a beast to deal with. But, by doing all the above steps, and knowing your rights you will be on a straight path to the quickest recovery possible.
For future reference
As stated earlier, you are entitled to one free credit report every year. You can contact the three major credit bureaus directly or you can go to AnnualCreditReport.com. Now, if your identity has been stolen, I would certainly get all three. But going forward, you can stagger your request (getting one of your free reports from one of the major three agencies every four months) to monitor your credit during the year.
I hope that this has been helpful.
So until next time,
Matt Mason is the founder of Free Your Mind Online, a website designed to empower individuals so that they can take control of their personal finances and achieve wealth.© 2011 Matthew Mason
The views and opinions expressed in these articles do not necessarily reflect those of College Central Network, Inc. or its affiliates. Reference to any company, organization, product, or service does not constitute endorsement by College Central Network, Inc., its affiliates or associated companies. The information provided is not intended to replace the advice or guidance of your legal, financial, or medical professional.