Most victims suffer needlessly, since knowing what to do can make it far less painful than it needs to be.
Indications that identity theft has occurred include unfamiliar tradelines and inquiries. And once it has occurred, you will certainly fight an uphill battle to get things straightened out, particularly if you don’t take action early and follow the Fair Credit Reporting Act guidelines.
Innocent people can have their credit wrecked and even get sued. Again, the credit reporting and finance systems in this country are not well equipped to deal with identity theft, and you’ll find that they are insensitive to your cause. In many cases, you will find them unwilling to help you at all. But by taking corrective measures that are built into the Fair Credit Reporting Act, you can greatly increase your chances of walking away unscathed.
- File a police report. Send a copy to all three bureaus and your creditors, including those that are not yet affected. Use the insurance method, of course.
- Contact the fraud departments of the Big Three credit reporting agencies (see Table 11 for contact information) and place a fraud alert on your file. When you contact one credit bureau, it’s supposed to contact the others (a process known as a “one call” alert). But I recommend contacting all three just to be safe. The alert will be in place for three months and can be extended to seven years, but only if a police report has been filed and provided to the bureaus. After placing an extended alert, consumers can obtain two free reports in the 12 months that follow.
Credit Bureau Fraud Alert Contacts
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
Trans Union Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P.O. Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92834
PO Box 2002
Allen, TX 75013
- Block any item on your report that isn't yours with both the furnisher and the bureaus by providing them with a copy of a police report. When compiling a report, the bureaus are required to block any information relating to identity theft, including any inquiries made within four days after you notify them.22 Be advised that disputing information is not the same as blocking. Consumers must specifically request a block and specify exactly what information they want blocked, including inquiries.
- Close any account that you suspect may have been tampered with or that the thief has opened. Fill out the FTC’s ID Theft Affidavit form23 and send it to any creditor affected and to the Big Three. Once a stolen account has been resolved with the creditor, make sure and request a letter from them which states that the account in question is closed and the debts incurred due to the fraud have been discharged. (Just in case they're reported accidentally or the credit bureau makes a mistake.)
- File a complaint with the FTC.
- Be prepared to sue companies that spread false information about you. It’s now federal law that you have two years from the occurrence to file suit, so don’t delay if you’ve been a victim.
- Contact the USPS inspector and ensure that your mail hasn’t been forwarded to another location.
- If your driver’s license has been stolen, notify the DMV to cancel that license and have another one issued.
- If a checking account has been issued to the thief in your name, contact the bank and provide an ID Theft Affidavit. Also contact ChexSystems or the check reporting agency for that bank and provide it with an ID Theft Affidavit (see ChexSystems: checking account repair for contact information for checking account reporting). Make sure it deletes any adverse entries related to the fraudulent account.
- Contact the Social Security Administration and notify it of the problem.
- If there’s a judgment pending or entered based on the thief’s activity, contact an attorney.
- Log your activities and keep track of time and money spent on the problem in case you need to sue.
- You may use the phone when contacting bureaus and creditors, but this is not a substitute for written communication. Do everything in writing as well, using the insurance method.
- Check with your local state unemployment and welfare office to see if benefits have been obtained by using your identity. Yes, I know a person whose identity was used to obtain unemployment benefits! Talk about a bold thief! If this happens to you, contact the Internal Revenue Service immediately so that you aren’t taxed on those benefits.
- For Unauthorized Charges on Existing Accounts. For existing credit accounts, use the creditor's fraud dispute form. If they don't have one, use the one from the FTC. Use the creditor's billing address, not the address where payments are sent. If you're not sure, ask them!
- When a credit reporting agency is notified of a fraud alert, it must notify the consumer of his or her right to a free report, and the report must be provided within three business days of the consumer request.24
- The effect of an extended fraud alert is to prevent the bureaus from providing the victim’s information on prescreened lists for a period of five years. If the victim desires, a fraud alert can prevent the issuance of new credit, an increase in credit on an existing account, or an additional card on an existing account. But the alert must specifically state what the limitations are.25
- You may also add a victim statement letter to your report, which should simply state something like, “Fraud victim. Contact me at [phone numbers] before extending credit.” Also consider placing a security freeze on all three bureau reports.
- Debt collectors are prohibited from selling, transferring, or placing for collection certain debts that are caused by identity theft. The notice to the debt collector must come from the credit reporting agency pursuant to section 1681c-2.26
If you’re a victim of identity theft, act fast. Things deteriorate very quickly, and only you can set things straight, as creditors and bureaus alike will not perform the legwork that’s required.
22. 15 U.S.C. §1681c-2(a).
24. 15 U.S.C. § 1681j(d), added by Pub. L. No. 108-159, § 211(a)(4) (2003).
25. “Other than an extension under an existing open-end credit account, that is, a credit card. 15 U.S.C. §§ 1681c-1(h)(1)(A) (initial fraud and active duty military alerts), 1681c-1(h)(2)(A) (active military duty alerts).” NCLC Fair Credit Reporting § 16.6.1a.2.5.
26. 15 U.S.C. § 1681m(f), as amended by Pub. L. No. 108-159, § 154 (2003); see also § NCLC Fair Credit Reporting § 16.6.1a.4.2.