Identity theft victims often don't know their personal information has been compromised until the damage already has been done. Responding early to a stolen identity is key but it's never too late to take action if you have been a victim of identity theft.
Victims spend an average of $1,200 in out-of-pocket expenses and anywhere between 175 and 600 hours over months or years recovering from identity theft, according to the Federal Trade Commission. But left unchecked, identity theft victims lose an average of $10,000 per attack.
Follow these steps if you believe you are a victim of stolen identity, while taking detailed notes of actions and conversations and making copies of all written correspondence.
There are three companies that maintain credit reports, also called credit bureaus. Each is legally required to contact the other two once a fraud alert has been made, but contact any credit reporting companies that fail to provide a confirmation of your fraud alert.
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013
Each of the three credit reporting companies is required to provide a free copy of your credit report once a fraud alert has been made. Review them carefully, looking for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you haven't opened and debts on current accounts that don't make sense.
Get any inaccurate or fraudulent information, such as a misspelled name or incorrect Social Security number, removed. The FTC has instructions for doing this. Use an Identity Theft Report to protect your rights and recover from the crime.
The initial fraud alert, recommended for those who think they may have been an identity theft victim, lasts for 90 days. This freezes the issuance of any new cards or credit increases for existing accounts and blocks any new credit applications. An extended fraud alert may be obtained by sending the credit reporting bureau a copy of your Identity Theft Report (see link above) and remains in place for up to seven years.
Check your credit reports often to detect any additional signs of identity theft.
Contact each company or bank and speak with someone in the fraud or security department, following up in writing (this is important). Include copies of relevant supporting documents but keep the originals in a file. Send letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what each company received and when.
Ask the company for forms to dispute any transactions, such as debits or charges to your existing accounts, made by the identity thief. If they don't provide such forms, use the FTC's sample letter (DOC) to help you draft a formal dispute. Address the letter to the company's "billing inquiries" department, not the address for payments.
For new unauthorized accounts, file your dispute directly with the company or file a police report (see #4) first and then provide a copy of the "Identity Theft Report" to the company. Filing such an official police report first often gives you greater protection, since companies presented with an Identity Theft Report are required to stop reporting fraudulent information.
But if you would rather just file a dispute directly with the company first, ask if the company accepts the "ID Theft Affidavit" (PDF) provided by the FTC. If not, ask a company representative for its fraud dispute forms.
After resolving your identity theft dispute, ask for written confirmation that the company has closed the fraudulent accounts and discharged fraudulent debts. Keep this in your records as proof against any potential future errors in your credit report.
Use new PIN numbers and passwords when opening new accounts, avoiding personal information such as your birth date or mother's maiden name.
Filing an identity theft complaint with the FTC not only helps you recover from the crime but also assists law enforcement officials track down and apprehend identity thieves. You may file your complaint online, by telephone or by mail.
1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338), TYY: 1-866-653-4261; www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov; Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580.
You may update your complaint by calling the Identity Theft Hotline above.
Your printed FTC ID Theft Complaint form can be used to: (1) block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report; (2) prevent fraudulent debts from reappearing on your credit report; (3) prevent companies from attempting to collect debts resulting from identity theft and (4) expedite the process of placing an extended fraud alert on your credit report.
Contact your local police department or sheriff's office and file an official report about your identity theft. Most law enforcement agencies will let you file the report over the phone or via the internet if you're unable to file it in person. If the police are reluctant to take your report, contact another jurisdiction such as your state police department. You can also check your state Attorney General's office to see if your state requires police departments to file identity theft reports.
Bring a printed copy of your FTC ID Theft Complaint form and any supporting information if you file your report in person, as these will help expedite the process.
Ask the officer to include the ID Theft Complaint with the police report and ask for a copy of the Identity Theft Report (the police report) in order to better help you dispute fraudulent accounts or charges. If the officer is unable to give a copy of the police report (as is the case in some jurisdictions), as him or her to sign your ID Theft Complaint and write the police report number in the "Law Enforcement Report" section of the FTC document.
Contact a qualified consumer attorney to assist with the hazards and stress accompanying identity theft and online scams.