Where to Start
Identity theft is the most frequent complaint filed with the Federal Trade Commission (the agency created in 1914 to protect the public against unfair commerce practices, later charged with much greater consumer protection duties.) I always encourage clients to file an identity theft complaint with the FTC. They publish an annual report of complaints, cited by everyone else as the barometer of consumer issues. The more data the FTC has, the better the statistics and allocation of resources.
FYI: One statistic I found very valuable is that young people (20 -29) are the most frequent victims of identity theft. You can be sure I will be quoting that to my 23 year old daughter!
Let me start by saying that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is my go-to source on identity theft. Bookmark this website: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/features/feature-0014-identity-theft.
Preventing identity theft is, of course, preferred over being victimized. See our blog 7 Tips to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft .Unfortunately, we see people after they have been victimized.
Know the Signs
- Withdrawals from your bank account you don’t recognize.
- Bills or other mail don’t arrive.
- Your checks are refused.
- Debt collection calls about debts that aren’t yours.
- Unknown accounts, inquiries or addresses on your credit report.
- Medical bills for services you didn’t have.
- IRS notice that a tax return has already been filed in your name.
- Notice that your information was compromised by a data breach.
First Steps (The sooner you take action, the less damage to repair)
- Get a notebook and folder to record and save all action such as phone calls, letters, etc.
- Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. The fraud alert is good for 90 days.
- Contact one of the 3 major credit bureaus as they are required to pass on the information to the others:
- Experian 1-888-397-3742
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285
- Mark your calendar to renew the fraud alert at the end of the 90 days.
- Consider putting a credit freeze on your credit reports. This prevents new creditors from accessing your reports instead of requiring them to verify your identity as with the fraud alert. Credit freezes may cost money, depending on your state laws. (They take time to unfreeze so you must plan ahead if you are intending to apply for credit.)
- Order your credit reports from each credit bureau at the numbers above. Explain you have placed a fraud alert on your reports. This entitles you to a free report. Review the reports carefully for any suspicious information. Meet with a financial counselor if the reports make your head spin. (link to counseling here?)
- Create an Identity Theft Report (aka Affidavit) through the FTC http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/0277-create-identity-theft-report. This helps you gather the information you need to file a police report, provides important statistical information to the FTC, and is useful when dealing with companies who want you to pay for fraudulent activity.
- File a police report with your local police department and get a copy or report number. Here in Minneapolis, it can be done through our one-stop city service resource called 311 Minneapolis. Maybe your city offers a similar service.
- Call your credit card companies to alert them to the identity theft.
The Next Step: Clean Up
Write the credit bureaus. Specifically request the fraudulent activity be removed. Send certified mail.
- List of fraudulent information from your credit reports.
- Copies of credit reports showing the fraudulent activity.
- Copies of the affidavit and police report.
- Copy of your identification.
- Call the companies of your existing accounts if you have fraudulent charges.
Let them know you are a victim of identity theft and ask what they need from you. Make sure to send the needed information certified mail and log your phone calls with notes from the conversation, dates letters were mailed; and keep copies of everything sent. The FTC has very detailed instructions and sample letters: http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0009-taking-charge_0.pdf
It is a lot of work dealing with identity theft. It can take months, even years to fully recover, depending on the extent of the damage. So, take the old Ben Franklin quote to heart: “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” and re-read our blog http://blog.conqueryourdebt.org/2013/05/27/7-tips-to-protect-yourself-from-identity-theft/.
Author Mary Ellen Kaluza is a Financial Counselor at LSS Financial Counseling. Give us a call at 888-577-2227 or visit our website at www.ConquerYourDebt.org to learn more about LSS.
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