There are several steps you can and should take to protect yourself if you are a victim of identity theft.
Make Sure to Document Your Actions
Begin documenting the time and money you spend on straightening out identity theft. In some states, any person found guilty of financial identity theft will be ordered to pay restitution to the victim for any financial loss, including lost wages.
- Keep copies of correspondence and documents related to the theft.
- Write records of all telephone calls, including the date and time of your call and the name and title of the person who assisted you.
- Write letters to confirm all phone conversations. Include the date, the name of the person you spoke with and what actions were taken.
- Send all documents and letters “Return Receipt Requested.” Keep the postal receipt with your copy.
You should consider using the ID Theft Affidavit to avoid completing numerous forms. This form can assist you in disputing inaccurate information that appears on your credit report. It is available on www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft. Keep copies of all affidavits that you send to the respective agencies.
Contact the Police
You should call the police immediately to file a report with your local law enforcement. If your identity is stolen when you are away from home, you may need to contact the police in that jurisdiction too. Filing a police report accomplishes two things: First, the police can begin investigating the crime. Second, you will need information from the police report to correct information with various credit bureaus and any affected credit card companies. When you talk to the police, make sure you get the police report number and pertinent contact information to reach the investigator assigned to your case. Give this information to all the companies you contact regarding the crime.
Stop the Damage
After you call the police, you should contact the credit bureaus. Next, contact any credit card companies and banks where your accounts could be at risk.
Contact the fraud departments at each of the three credit bureaus.
Equifax: (888) 766-0008
Experian: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
- Ask all three agencies to flag the accounts with a “fraud alert.” Determine how long the fraud alert will remain on your report with each agency, and how to extend the time, if needed. Ask each creditor to contact you at a phone number you provide to verify all future applications.
- Add a “victim’s statement” to the report. Include your name, state the problem and provide a telephone number where you can be reached.
- Ask each credit bureau to send you a copy of your credit report. These reports will guide you in tracing where and when any fraud occurred to your accounts.
- In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes. Make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred. Unfortunately, identity thieves often strike the same accounts again and again; therefore, it is very important to continue to monitor your credit reports very closely for a while after the initial crime. Even with a “fraud alert,” thieves may still find ways to open new accounts.
- Ask the credit bureaus if they will supply you with free reports every few months.
Credit Card Companies
If a thief has gained access to one of your credit cards, contact the security department of that credit card company.
- Close any affected accounts so that they are registered as “closed at customer request.”
- Get new account numbers and protect the accounts with passwords.
- Follow up with a letter documenting the date, the name of the person who helped you and what actions were taken.
If only one card has been compromised, you may not want to close all of your credit accounts. You may want to get counseling about this decision from a victim assistance group.
Inform your bank if your wallet or purse was stolen or lost. Tell them what bank account information, account numbers, ATM cards or checks were stolen or lost.
- Cancel checking and savings accounts, and open new ones.
- Stop payments on outstanding checks.
- Get a new ATM card, account number and PIN or password.
Contact the Government Authorities
It is also good to contact other authorities that specialize in identity theft.
FTC Identity Theft Hot Line: (877) IDTHEFT (438-4338)
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) runs the ID Theft Hotline and the ID Theft Data Clearinghouse.
Social Security Fraud Hot Line: (800) 269-0271
If your Social Security number has been compromised, report it immediately to the Social Security Administration. You may also visit www.ssa.gov/pubs/10064.html.
U.S. Postal Inspectors: (877) 876-2455
If mail service was used in the fraud, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. This agency is helpful if any fraudulent utility bills or apartment leases show up on your credit report. You may also visit http://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/.
If you would like to learn more, there are government and consumer groups available to help you. Henssler Financial’s Tax & Accounting Division can assist you with further information regarding this issue as well as any other tax related issues. Please contact us at 770-429-9166 or [email protected].