Preventing & Recovering from Identity Theft
How Can I Prevent Identity Theft from Happening to Me?
Identity Theft (when someone uses your identity to fraudulently obtain money, goods or services) has become a large problem nationwide. It's very important to learn how to protect yourself from this insidious crime that can ruin your credit rating and cause major problems for you for many years. At a minimum, you should make copies or electronic scanned images of all of your credit cards, licenses, and other important identification and credit cards/documents, and keep them in a safe place. Next to the copy of each card, write down the respective 800 phone number to call if you have a problem.
Protect your social security number and only give it out when required by law. Also, do not give out your personal information over the phone unless you initiated the call.
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 birthdate, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
What Steps Should I Take If I Am a Victim of Identity Theft?
If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible after filing your online police report, and keep a record with the details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.
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 only need to contact 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. If you do not receive a confirmation from a company, you should contact that company directly to place a fraud alert: Equifax, Experian, TransUnion.
Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you are entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting bureaus, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports. Once you receive your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you have not contacted, accounts you did not open, and debts on your accounts that you cannot explain. Check that information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, contact the credit bureau about how to have the information corrected.
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.
2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Call and speak with 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 birthdate, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or has 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 to the company at the address given for "billing inquiries," NOT the address for sending your payments.
- For new unauthorized accounts, you can either file a dispute directly with the company or file a report with the police and provide a copy, called a "Financial Identity Theft" report, to the company.
- If you want to file a dispute directly with the company, and do not want to file a report with the police, ask if the company accepts the FTC's ID Theft Affidavit. If it does not, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. However, filing a report with the police and then providing the company with a Financial Identity Theft report will give you greater protection. For example, if the company has already reported these unauthorized accounts or debts on your credit report, a police report will require them to stop reporting that 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.
3. File a complaint with the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
You can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission using the online complaint form; or call the FTC's Identity Theft Toll-Free Hotline; TTY Toll-Free Hotline; 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.
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.
Additionally, you can provide a printed copy of your online complaint form to the police to incorporate into their police report. The printed FTC ID Theft Complaint, in conjunction with the police report, can constitute an Identity Theft Report and entitle you to certain protections. This Identity Theft Report can be used to: (1) permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report; (2) ensure that debts do not reappear on your credit report (3) prevent a company from continuing to collect debts that result from identity theft; and (4) place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.
4. File a police report for Identity Theft.
You may file a report with the local law enforcement agency where you reside and be provided a copy of the report. If the incident happened in a different jurisdiction, the report may be referred to the law enforcement agency where the incident occurred for further investigation.