Identity theft is a serious crime that costs individuals and organizations almost $40,000,000,000 dollars each year. It is a Federal crime in the United States and it involves the act by a perpetrator in stealing someone’s name along with their personal information so as to benefit from the victim’s financial assets and creditworthiness. If you suspect or know that you are the victim of identity theft, then prompt action is necessary to thwart any further destructive attempts by the perpetrator from causing even more damage to your finances and identity. Here is a quick guide to give you information as to what to do when identity theft happens to you. You may also want to consult our Identity Theft Resources page.
Recognize When ID Theft Happens
There are certain key indicators that you have become a victim of identity theft. The most obvious indicator of this crime is when you cannot explain certain purchases and withdrawals on your credit card statement or bank accounts. Other ways to tell are when there are strange accounts recently opened on your credit report, a denial of a loan you’ve applied for due to poor credit even though you pay your bills on time, or you start receiving bills in the mail that you do not recognize. Then there are the long-range indicators that you are a victim of identity theft. For example, you notice that you have not been receiving certain statements from your bank and credit card companies for quite some time. Even worse, you start getting calls from debt collectors about delinquencies you know nothing about. In the latter case, calls from collection agencies mean that the creditor has written you off and sold the debt. Usually a minimum of 120 days passes before this happens, so it becomes obvious that there has been a lot of damage done to your credit and identity during that span.
Maintain a Log
Under identity theft recovery laws, there is the potential for you to be able to be recompensed for your time in recovering from identity theft. To establish the time that you are taking in writing letters, calling your account holders, and all the other chores that have to be completed to help recover your identity, you’ll find that a log book is quite helpful. Simply log in the task that you completed, what day you completed it on, and how much time it took you to complete it.
Contact the Credit Reporting Bureaus
The three credit reporting bureaus are Experian, Transunion, and Equifax. Upon your request, simply contact one of them and they can put a fraud alert on your credit report so that no credit will be extended when an application is made in your name without first contacting you personally. By default, a fraud alert placed on your credit report is good for 90 days; however, you can have it remain in effect for up to seven years if you have a confirmed case of identity theft with an open police report. If you are on active duty in the military, you can place a fraud alert on your credit report for up to a year. It’s free to do, and it’s also free to take off, and all it takes is a letter or phone call from you.
Check Your Credit Report
It’s important to be vigilant in checking out what your credit report says. When you place a fraud alert with one of the credit reporting agencies, you qualify for a free credit report from each one. Look through these reports very closely and check to see if all the accounts are ones that you recognize. It can be helpful to pull out an account history from your files if you have one to help check payment histories and any accounts you don’t recognize right away for authenticity.
You can also get a free credit report every 12 months by simply writing each credit bureau and requesting one. You can also do this online if you wish or by calling 1-877-322-8228.
File a Complaint with the FTC
This is an important step if you want the criminals who stole your identity caught. When you file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), that complaint is then put into a database that is shared with law enforcement agencies so that identity theft can be effectively prosecuted.
You’ll want to gather up as much information about the identity theft incident that you can as the more information you have in the complaint about the theft, the more likely law enforcement agencies will be able to catch those who are responsible. You’re not required to file a complaint with the FTC… but filing a complaint is helpful when it comes to stopping the crime of identity theft in the future.
File an Identity Theft Affidavit with the IRS
If you believe that your tax records have been affected or will be affected in the future by identity theft, you will need to file Form 14039 with the IRS. Actually, you can file this form even if you have lost your wallet and are concerned that you may “potentially” become a victim of identity theft. It’s a short one page form that you can print, fill out, and mail or fax to the IRS with a copy of your passport, driver’s license , Social Security card, or other valid U.S. Federal or State government issued identification.
Some agencies you will be contacting in a later step may take an Identity Theft Affidavit as a means of notification to begin the remedy process, while others may have their own affidavit that you will need to fill out. Contact each company to see what their individual policies are.
File a Police Report
Filing a police report with your local authorities helps you to be able to:
- get fraud alerts placed on your credit report;
- obtain credit report remedies for free so that no one can view your credit report or use the information in it without your permission;
- allow you to be able to access the insurance policy on your selected identity theft protection plan.
This report is essentially your identity theft report. You will need the information that you collected for your affidavit to create this report, but once you do, you’ve got a powerful document that can help you to start eliminating fraudulent charges, negating false negative items on your credit record, and access powerful prevention tools to stop identity thieves from striking again.
Dispute Fraudulent Items on Your Accounts
After you have reviewed your financial records, including your credit reports, for fraudulent activity, you’ll want to then dispute those charges that aren’t yours. An effective means of doing this is to write a letter to each financial insitution for every fraudulent charge found. Each dispute process is different for each organization, so be sure to find the correct process for each account you hold.
You must do this within 60 business days of the statement with the fraudulent charges being received. A great way to start is to contact the fraud departments of each account to notify them that you are writing dispute letters because you have become the victim of identity theft.
Notify Your Creditors and Financial Institutions
Make sure you change any passwords and PIN numbers to online accounts you have as well. It’s a good idea to have contact information for all of your creditors in one place so that you can reach them quickly and efficiently if you need to do so. In addition, this is a good place to have fraud alerts placed with individual account holders if possible, to put stops on accounts, or to even close accounts if it becomes necessary to do so in your opinion.
Place a Credit Freeze on Your Credit Report
If you place a credit freeze on your credit report, you are not allowing anyone – including yourself – access to the information that your credit report contains. When a lender doesn’t have access to this information, it is much less likely a new line of credit or a new account will be opened for an identity thief. An open police report allows you to have a credit freeze placed on your account for free, but if you just suspect identity theft and want to protect your credit, there may be a small fee. Fees are determined by the state in which you reside. A credit freeze is not updated to all of the credit reporting agencies as a fraud report is, so you will need to contact all three credit bureaus to have a credit freeze placed on each credit report.
Continue to Monitor
Since you now know what to look for when someone is stealing your identity, continue to look for the telltale signs of this. Pay close attention to your mail and make sure you are receiving what you are supposed to. Look for credit cards in the mail that you did not apply for and continue to check your credit report. Hopefully, the perpetrator will get caught but you more than likely will have to build your defenses first.
It’s a Lot of Work!
There is a lot involved in the protection of your identity. A lot of it entails you being vigilant, being smart with your identifying information, and being proactive in preventing identity thieves from being able to find a weak spot. If you are not able to check your credit report on a regular basis or you just don’t have the time to get all of the recovery steps done on your own, then you should consider paying a small monthly fee for professional identity theft protection services today. That way you won’t ever have to have a sleepless night worrying about your finances ever again.