What to Do if You Are a Victim of Identity Theft
Written by: Kristy Welsh
Last Updated: April 19, 2017
A recent survey from Bankrate.com found that 41 million Americans had been victims of identity theft in 2015, which equates to about two in five people who were victims. Knowing that sobering fact should make you even more alert to the potential of it happening to you, if it has not happened to you already.
It is important that you act quickly if you suspect you are a victim of identity fraud. In addition to reporting your identity theft to the following agencies, you may want to start a log of your efforts to protect yourself. This information could prove invaluable later in proving you are not responsible for false debts or even crimes associated with the identity theft. You may also want to read this article, The Tale of a Waylaid Wallet. Below are some suggested courses of action you should follow if you are a victim of identity theft.
Contact the Authorities
Report the crime to all police and sheriff's departments with jurisdiction in your case. Credit card companies and banks may require you to show the report in order to convince them of your innocence, and if they don't believe you, they may hold you responsible for bounced checks, charges made in your name, etc. If you can get it, it is an important piece of documentation.
Give the police/sheriff's department as much documented evidence as possible, and get a copy of your police report. Make sure to take note of your detective's (or the official taking the report/handling your case)'s direct phone number. It will make it easier for creditors/banks to carry out their own investigation.
Some police departments have been known to refuse to write reports on such crimes. In a report issued by the FTC based on the identity theft hotline it set up (see below), the police took reports in 67 percent of the cases. If you can't get them to take a report, at least document your call and who you spoke with.
The FTC's Identity Theft Toll-Free Hotline: 1-877-IDTHEFT or 877.438.4338.
Pull Your Credit Reports
In most cases, it is difficult to obtain a mortgage or car loan using someone else's identity, typically the thieves go for credit cards. Pull your credit report immediately to make sure no one has opened up new accounts in your name. Be aware, though that new accounts may not show up for quite a while (6 months or more), so be sure and check frequently for the first year. It might be a good idea to sign up for a credit monitoring program such as one of these listed.
If accounts have been opened up in your name, contact the creditors immediately with whom your name has been used fraudulently. Credit card companies have whole departments which handle nothing but fraud.
Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports
Immediately call and/or write the the three credit reporting agencies (CRAs) listed below. Report the theft of your credit cards or account numbers, and ask to have your account flagged with a fraud alert. Typically, fraud alerts remain on your credit report for two years, and will prevent anyone (including yourself) from opening accounts without additional verification.
Toll-Free Report Fraud Hotlines:
- Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (888-397-3742)
- Equifax: 1-800-525-6285
- TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289
If your credit report has already been damaged (inquiries you did not make, accounts you did not open have been placed on your report), go through the normal credit repair procedures to have these items removed. Point out that you have already placed a fraud alert on your report to strengthen your case. For items you cannot immediately remove, you may want to ask the credit bureaus to change the status of disputed accounts to "disputed."
Call Your Creditors
If your credit cards have been stolen, it's important that you act quickly to prevent as much responsibility for fraudulent charges as possible. Call your creditors on the phone and follow up your call with the facts in writing. Most creditors will issue replacement cards with new account numbers for your own accounts that have been used fraudulently with no trouble, if you act immediately. If fraudulent charges have been made to your accounts, at the very most you will be responsible for no more than 50 dollars.
Important Note: Ask that old accounts be processed as "account closed at consumer's request." This is better than "card lost or stolen" because when this statement is reported to credit bureaus, it can be interpreted as blaming you for the loss.
Finally, carefully monitor your mail and credit card bills for evidence of new fraudulent activity, in case your thief comes back to haunt you.
Notify Your Banks
If you have had your ATM card, bank checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, close your accounts immediately. It is also wise to report it to any of the the following check verification companies your bank uses. Don't rely on them to do this.
ChexSystems: 1-800-428-9623 (closed checking accounts)
National Processing Co. (NPC): 1-800-526-5380
Most banks use ChexSystems, and you may want to have an in-depth conversation with your bank about anything it may have reported to ChexSystems. Any negative items reported to ChexSystems will prevent you from opening up a checking account anywhere else for 5 years. If your bank has reported anything to ChexSystems as a result of your identity fraud, insist that it remove the listing immediately.
As a further stop-gap measure, put stop payments on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of, although this can cost you a pretty penny ($15/check or more). Give the bank a secret password for your account other than mother's maiden name (this is an easy piece of information for a thief to obtain).
Fraudulent Change of Address
Notify the local Postal Inspector if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of your address with the post office or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud. To obtain the phone number of your local Postmaster, call 1-800-275-8777. To find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent, notify the local Postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. You may also need to talk with your mail carrier.
Call the Social Security Administration
If your Social Security number has been misused, call the Social Security Administration (SSA) to report fraudulent use of your Social Security number. As a last resort, you might want to try to change your number. Because of the many people trying to escape their bad credit by getting a new SSN, the SSA will only change your number if you fit their fraud victim criteria.
You may also be facing the possibility that someone is using your SSN number for employment to avoid paying taxes. To ensure this is not happening, you may order a copy of your Earnings and Benefits Statement and check it for accuracy.
Notify the Passport Office
If you have a passport, notify the passport office in writing to be on the lookout for anyone ordering a new passport fraudulently. (Web: U.S. Passports & International Travel)
Check if Your Driver's License Number Has Been Misused
You may need to change your driver's license number if someone is using yours as identification on bad checks. Call the state office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name. Put a fraud alert on your license. Go to your local DMV to request a new number. Also, fill out the DMV's complaint form to begin the fraud investigation process. Send supporting documents with the completed form to the nearest DMV investigation office.