How Can I Recover From ID Theft?
Identity theft is the fastest growing, and most widespread, crime in the United States - this means that anyone can fall victim to it. Identity theft can occur through a variety of different ways, such as stealing company data, pretexting, dumpster diving, stealing mail, and using crimeware, and individuals of any age may be exploited. Specifically, if someone is between the ages of 18 to 29, and they live in either Phoenix or Los Angeles, their chances of becoming a victim of identity theft are higher than the national average. Identity theft comprised 37 percent of complaints registered with the Federal Trade Commission in 2005, and the most common type of identity theft reported was credit card fraud.
If any individuals suspect identity theft, it is important that they follow the below steps immediately:
As soon as an individual discovers that their wallet or credit cards are missing, or if a collection agency calls them about unauthorized debt, they should try to document all communications and actions as much as possible. Specifically, individuals should try to remember where they were when their wallets and cards were stolen and/or went missing. If a debt collector calls, they should gather all information possible about the agency, and investigate the charges right away. From this point onwards, individuals should document all actions or correspondences related to their identity theft until it is resolved.
Limit personal information disclosures.
Individuals should immediately limit the disclosure of their personal information when contacting businesses. They should also notify banks, brokers, credit card companies, credit bureaus, and department stores that they would like to opt out of any programs that share personal information.
Change all passwords
Individuals should begin to change all of their online passwords to their accounts, email addresses and any online stores. Use different passwords for each account, and make sure that the passwords are not automatically saved on the computer.
Request and check a credit report
Individuals should obtain a copy of their credit reports to see if any new accounts or credit inquiries have been added. If a thief opens up an account fraudulently, then it will show up on a credit report.
Place a fraud alert
By placing a fraud alert on their credit reports, individuals can prevent thieves from opening up further accounts in their names for at least 90 days. Individuals should contact one of the national credit reporting agencies, such as Equifax, Experian or TransUnion, in order to file a fraud alert. Once a fraud alert is placed with one of the three companies, the other two will replicate the request, and all three will send confirmations of the request.
Each of the three credit reporting agencies will also send one free copy of their credit report, which details any financial, residential or criminal activity that has been filed under an individual's name. Make sure to keep the credit files in a safe place.
Create an Identity Theft Report
Individuals should file an identity theft report with every company where fraudulent accounts were opened in order to relieve themselves from any incurred debts. The Federal Trade Commission Theft Report and a Fraudulent Account Statement will enable companies to investigate the fraudulent accounts and to decide the outcome. Many companies and creditors will request that the affidavit be sent within two weeks after their phone call.
- Link to the FTC affidavit: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/resources/forms/affidavit.pdf
- Additional information on the FTC and how to file a complaint: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/know-before-filling.html
Report any stolen checks, and close any fraudulent accounts
If individuals have had checks stolen or fraudulent bank accounts opened, they should report it to their bank or to one of the check verification companies. When the check verification companies are contacted, they should also request that the companies notify all retailers of the stolen checks. Stop payments should also be authorized on any unauthorized outstanding checks
File a police report
A police report should be filed with the individual's local police or where the identity theft happened. A copy of the police report should also be requested as proof. The crime should be filed as an identity theft one.
Talk to these government agencies:
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC):
A complaint should be filed with the FTC, because they handle all complaints by victims of identity theft. They also assist victims of identity theft by providing them with recovery information, and they also report the complaints to other government agencies and private organizations. The FTC's number is: 1-877-ID-THEFT
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS):
Individuals should contact the IRS if they suspect the fraudulent use of identification information in conjunction with tax violations. Their number is 1-800-829-0433.
The Post Office:
The local office of the Postal Inspection Service should be contacted if mail fraud is suspected.
The Social Security Administration:
The Social Security Administration should be contacted if individuals suspect the illegal buying or selling of legitimate or fake social security cards, misuse involving individuals connected to terrorist groups or other related activities, and misuse of a social security number to obtain social security benefits fraudulently.
U.S. State Department:
The U.S. State Department should be contacted if individuals suspect that their passports have been stolen or compromised. If their passport is stolen while abroad, individuals should immediately report the loss to the nearest U.S. embassy or consulate.
Call companies for any information on identity theft.
Individuals have the right to obtain any documentation that is connected to fraudulent transactions involving their personal information, or their accounts. Copies of credit or other business applications should be requested and saved as proof. Companies will, at the very least, provide individuals with details on how long the abuse has been going on for, and how much has been charged. Debt collectors are required to provide individuals with the name of the creditor with whom the fraudulent account was opened as well as the amount of debt accrued.
Notify all creditors of identity theft.
All creditors should be notified if an individual suspects identity theft. If they have accounts that seem to display normal activity, then they should not shut those accounts down. When creditors are contacted, individuals should change all of their passwords and ask about other security measures that creditors can take.
Report all stolen cards.
Cards including ATM, credit, debt, prepaid, gas station, phone, department store or other cards should be reported if they are stolen or missing. Contact the companies behind those cards immediately, and inform them of the theft. Cancel any calling cards, department store credit cards, and other rewards cards if they are stolen or missing. Also ask all of the companies if any of the cards have been used recently.
Find all bills.
All bills, new and old, should be collected and organized to ensure that a bill is not missing. All bills should also be analyzed for accuracy. If any unauthorized charges are found, they should be reported immediately to the company.
Investigate any callers who request personal information.
If anyone calls, requesting personal information, individuals should find out what the information will be used for, especially if they did not initiate the phone call. If a caller says they are a credit card representative, individuals should hang up the phone and dial their credit card company's official number.
Stop businesses from reporting to a credit reporting agency.
Individuals can stop any businesses from reporting information on them if they believe the information to be inaccurate. In order to do this, individuals must send their request to the address specified by the information provider, which provides personal information to consumer reporting agencies. All businesses will expect an identity theft report, and a specification of what information should not be reported.
Billing disputes arise when individuals refuse to pay off fraudulent debts. If a collection agency calls, individuals should state that they are willing to cooperate, but are unwilling to pay the fraudulent debt. This dispute must be conducted in writing when disputing credit card bills. The credit card company will provide dispute instructions. If creditors attempt coercion, this should be reported to the FTC Bureau of Consumer Protection: 312-353-4423
Prepare to deal with false civil and criminal judgments.
Victims of identity theft are frequently and wrongfully accused of the crimes committed by the identity thieves. The court where the judgment was entered should be contacted if judgments are entered in the identity theft victim's name. The court should be informed of the identity theft victim's status. The Department of Justice should be contacted if victims remain wrongfully prosecuted.
Seek legal advice.
Individuals should consult an attorney in order to defend against wrongful criminal charges or to decide if further legal action needs to be taken. A lawyer should be found who specializes in consumer law, and who has aided in other identity theft victim cases.
Identity Theft Recovery Conclusion
If identity theft victims follow the above steps, they should be well on their way to recovery. It is important to act right away if identity theft is suspected. The faster an individual acts, the less damage will be done. Victims should also always keep in mind that all of their documentation should be kept for as long as possible - it will aid in recovering from identity theft in a timelier manner.