Over 15 million Americans fall victim to identity theft every year costing over $16 billion in stolen funds. Recovering from identity theft can at first seem like a daunting task, but it does not have to be if you follow the recommendations of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), national credit reporting agencies, and other government agencies in charge of consumer protection.
Reporting Identity Theft
As soon as you realize that you are a victim of identity theft, you should report it to the FTC. You can do this by phone at 1-877-438-4338 or online by visiting https://www.identitytheft.gov/. Reporting the theft online will give you access to sample letters, checklists, and a personal recovery plan. Once you have reported the theft to the FTC, you will receive an identity theft report which you will help you with some of the steps below, but you can begin the process of ensuring that your credit is protected and the thief can no longer use your identity or accounts they have already opened using it while waiting for the report. To do this, follow the steps below.
Step 1. Call all of the companies where you know that fraud has occurred. For example, if you saw any new accounts on your credit report that you did not open, contact each of the companies' fraud departments to report the account as fraudulent. Ask the companies to close or freeze the accounts, and then follow any instructions provided. If fraudulent activity occurred on an account that does belong to you, ask that the account be frozen, a new card issued, or a new account be opened to prevent future fraudulent activity. You should also change your usernames and passwords to these accounts. Ask each company to remove the information from your credit report and send you a confirmation letter stating that the account is not yours and has been removed from your credit report. Save the confirmation letter in case the information reappears on your report later.
Step 2. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This is a free service and the alert will be good for one year. You only have to do this with one of the three credit reporting agencies. By law, that agency must then notify the other two. The three credit reporting agencies and their contact information are:
P.O. Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374-0256
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, PA 19016
P.O. Box 4500
Allen, TX 75013
A fraud alert on your credit report means that companies must verify your identity before opening any new accounts, so it may be a little inconvenient for you to obtain new credit for a while, but it will it make it more difficult for anyone else to open any new accounts in your name.
Step 3. Obtain new, free, credit reports. If you have not already obtained your free reports in the last 12 months, visit the government website Annual Credit Report to order yours online. If you have already obtained your free reports in the last 12 months, you can follow the instructions on the confirmation letter that you will receive from each credit reporting agency after you have placed the fraud alert. This may take a little longer, but you will not have to pay to get the reports.
Step 4. Review your credit reports for any other fraudulent accounts and report them to the FTC and to the companies where the fraud occurred.
Step 5. Write a letter to each of the three credit reporting agencies, or use their online system, to remove all fraudulent accounts and information from your credit reports. Include a copy of your identity theft report from the FTC.
Additional Steps You May Need to Take if Your Identity Was Stolen
Depending on your situation, you may need or want to take some additional steps, besides the ones above, to ensure that your identity does not continue to be used by the thief, that all accounts are closed, and that your credit is protected.
Replace Lost or Stolen Identification or Social Security Card
If your social security card was stolen visit the social security administration (SSA) online at https://faq.ssa.gov/en-US/Topic/article/KA-02017 for help replacing your card. Likewise, if your driver's license or state issued identification card was stolen, visit your local Bureau of Motor Vehicles office to get a replacement card issued.
File a Police Report
You may choose to report the identity theft to your local police department, especially if you believe that someone local stole your identification, bank account information, or social security card, you know who stole your identity, or one of the companies to whom you reported the fraud requires a police report.
Report Tax Fraud
If the identity theft involved the filing of a fraudulent federal income tax return, you should report that to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). Information on what to report and how can be found at https://www.irs.gov/newsroom/taxpayer-guide-to-identity-theft. You may also need to report the theft to your state tax department if state income taxes were involved.
Get Back Your Government Benefits
If you were receiving government benefits that suddenly stopped after your identity was stolen, the thief may have changed your account information in order to collect the benefits themselves. You will need to contact the agency providing the benefits in order to determine what happened and get the issue resolved.
Stop Creditors or Debt Collectors from Attempting to Collect Debt Is Not Yours
If a creditor or debt collector attempts to collect on an account that resulted from the identity theft, write them a letter letting them know that you were the victim of identity theft and the account/charge is not yours. Be sure to include a copy of your identity theft report from the FTC with your letter.
Find and Close Checking Accounts Opened in Your Name
If you believe that someone has opened a checking account using your identity, you can request a free copy of your ChexSystems report by visiting the ChexSystems Free Annual Report webpage. Once you receive the report you should check for any accounts that do not belong to you and contact the financial institution where they are located for help closing them and getting them removed from your report.
Locate Utility and Phone Services Started Using Your Identity
An identity thief may have opened new utility accounts in your name that are still current and not appearing on your credit report. This may not cause you any problems, until the services go unpaid and become a part of your credit history. In order to locate any such accounts, contact the National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange at 1-866-349-5185 to request your report. Once you receive a copy of the report, review it for any accounts that do not belong to you and contact those companies directly. Let them know you are the victim of identity theft and the account is not yours and ask what you need to do in order to have the account closed.
If you are a victim of identity theft and are unable to correct any of the results of such theft, feel free to contact our office at 1-800-219-3577, for a free, no obligation consultation.