If you’ve become the victim of identity theft, you first need to contact the credit bureaus and place a fraud alert. Once you’ve done that, there are many other important steps to take. Make sure that you act quickly and with determination to ensure that you try, as best as possible, to cut off the perpetrators from your accounts.
Freezing Your Credit Reports
As of November 2007, people can “freeze” their credit reports that they have with Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. What this means is that you prevent credit issuers from having access to your credit files at any time other than when you give them permission. This makes sure that thieves can’t open up new credit cards and loan accounts with your information. Most states allow you to create security freezes with no charge if you are the victim of identity theft.
Report the Crime
It is very important that you report the identity theft to the police or sheriff’s department immediately. If you find out that the crime occurred somewhere other than where you live, you may need to report the crime to this police department as well. Give them any documented evidence that you have and make sure that the police report actually lists all fraudulent accounts. Get a copy of the report to have for your files, called an “identity theft report” under the FCRA. Make sure to write down the names and phone numbers of the police officers with whom you speak and have this handy to give to creditors as necessary. You may actually need to show this report to credit card companies and to banks in order to verify that you’ve had a crime committed against you. In addition, if the identity theft involved use of the U.S. mail, you can obtain an identity theft report form the U.S. Postal Inspector. If it involved your driver’s license, then you can obtain a report from your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Use all of the resources that you have available to you to work against this crime and its perpetrators.
Report to the FTC
Next, report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission. The FTC doesn’t take it under their jurisdiction to investigate identity theft cases, but they do share this information with investigators around the country who do fight against identity theft. You can call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline at 877-IDTHEFT.
Closing New, Fraudulent Credit Accounts
If you see that the thief has opened new credit cards or accounts in your name, you need to contact those creditors immediately and get those accounts closed. You should contact them in writing and by telephone. You’ll probably need to fill out fraud affidavits and can find copies of these forms at the FTC website (www.ftc.gov). Ask the people who issued the credit to the thief to give you and your investigating law enforcement agency copies of all documentation they have. This might include false applications and transaction records with the thief. Federal law gives you the right to have these documents. Next, ask for a letter from the creditor showing that they’ve closed the disputed account and discharged all debts. Keep this letter in your growing file. Also, you’ll want to notify the credit bureaus about the false accounts.
Dealing with Existing Credit or Debit Accounts
If the thief used your existing credit or debit accounts, rather than opening new accounts, you’ll need to report in writing immediately to the credit card company. Cancel your cards and request replacement cards with new account numbers. You should talk to the credit card company over the phone, and follow up in writing. You’ll probably need to provide a fraud affidavit or a dispute form. Add secure passwords to all of your accounts and monitor very carefully if there is still any activity that wasn’t authorized on your accounts.