Consumer Law

If You're a Victim of Identity Theft

Identity theft can strike anyone, anytime and when you find out you're a victim, be prepared to take immediate action. Your quick response can stop the identity thief and you can start repairing the damage. Use the resources from Federal Trade Commission cope with identity theft losses.

Plan Your Response to Identity Theft in Three Steps

Three things are vital in stopping an identity thief and minimizing your losses, reclaiming your identity and repairing your credit profile.

  1. File police reports and document your losses
  2. Contact creditors about the accounts opened by the thief, or your accounts used by the thief
  3. Notify the major credit bureaus

Filing Police Reports

Go to the police department for the city or town where the identity theft took place, and file a report. Get copies of the report. Your creditors, bank or insurance company may ask for it, and it can help as you work to clean up the credit mess.

Contacting Creditors

Contact any creditor, both your existing accounts and new ones opened by the identity thief if you know them. Creditors include major credit card issuers, store credit cards, gas cards, phone and other utility providers and consumer loans, such as auto or other personal loans. It's okay to get things started with each creditor's fraud department by phone, but you need to follow up in writing. You may be sent forms by the creditor after your call.

Some creditors, such as your credit card issuer, may have procedures in place to streamline this step. For example, they may cancel your existing credit card number, confirm your legitimate charges and send new cards out to you right away. Prompt action is important, too, because consumer protection laws set time limits for identifying, challenging and resolving billing errors. When your new accounts are set up, choose all new passwords, personal id numbers (PINs) and user names.

Contact creditors if the thief tampered with your existing accounts. Ask for accounts to be closed, for new ones to be opened and to require a password before making any more account changes.

Contacting Major Credit Bureaus

There are three major credit bureaus, TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Contact each company's fraud department to report the identity theft. Place a "fraud alert" on your profile, and to add your victim's statement - this is your request for credit providers to call you before making changes to your accounts or opening new ones. These companies also follow cross-notification plans, and share information about fraud. Your initial request for a fraud alert lasts for 90 days, and there's no fee for this service.

The fraud alert status may complicate some credit transactions, such as instant credit offers. The next step up from a fraud alert is a credit freeze, which locks up your credit profile to almost all activity, and fees apply.

Get copies of your credit reports and review them; there's no fee when you make a written request for your reports when there are errors due to fraud. Ask the bureaus to remove inaccurate credit data, and do the same for the "inquiries" section of your reports if there are entries for those creditors that opened accounts for the identity thief. Follow up after two or three months, and review reports for status, accuracy and corrections.

More Follow Up Steps

Hopefully your fast action in notifying the police, creditors and credit bureausshut down the identity thief, and the damage was minimal. Keep track of your credit and accounts, and make sure the identity theft has really come to an end.

Mail: Contact the US Postal Inspections Service if your case involved the mail. If your identity theft involved stolen mail, or a thief changing your address and redirecting your mail, for example, it's a crime. There are online complaint and report forms available.

Bank Accounts: Contact your bank if those accounts were misused or there's a chance they were violated. You can ask the bank to set up new accounts, including ATM and debit cards, and checks. Check verification companies can provide more help for your stolen or misused checks. These companies include:

  • SCAN: 1-800-262-7771
  • TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898
  • CrossCheck: 1-800-552-1900 or 1-707-586-0431

Other areas for follow up include utilities and personal documents. Here, watch for fraudulent phone accounts; a thief could try to bill calls to your cell phone, for example. Monitor your social security number (SSN) and driver's license for fraudulent use. If you still have your SSN on your license, get a new one without it. Contact your insurance agent; your homeowner's policy may cover costs related to an identity theft, and provide support services.

Identity theft is a crime, and if you're a victim, you've been violated and it's a headache to clean up the mess. However, your fast action goes a long way in taking back all that is yours.

Questions for Your Attorney

  • If the identity thief is found, do I have any say on whether criminal charges are pressed?
  • If identity theft took place at my home, will my insurance cover the loss, even if I don't have a special rider for these losses?
  • If a phone company opens fraudulent accounts after I give notice of my identity theft, can it try to collect payment from me? Isn't the company harassing me?

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