Identity Theft, Part 3: What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen

Identity theft is a serious crime where someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission. It can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history, and good name. As we’ve discussed in the previous two weeks an ounce of prevention is definitely worth a pound of cure when it comes to identity theft, but if all the preventative measures have failed take the following steps right away. Speed is important here.

1. Disconnect your computer from the Internet.
You probably have more personal information than you imagined on your computer. This advice is especially important if you store any financial records electronically or make financial transactions online.

Use a Different Computer to do the Following:

2. File a complaint with the FTC.
Prior to filing a police report, go to the FTC Identity Theft website and complete the online questionnaire. The questionnaire will generate a customized report for you to complete. You can also complete an ID Theft Affidavit.

3. File a police report.
This is really important. Your friends may say you are over-reacting, but this one simple step will help you big-time down the road. So, report your identity theft to the local police or sheriff’s department where you live AND the police department in the community where the theft took place. Bring a printed copy of the FTC ID Theft Complaint form you completed in step 2.

Also bring a copy of the FTC cover letter in support of the ID Theft Complaint stating why the police report is critical to protecting your rights and the documentation verifying the theft of your identity. You can print this out here: Ask the police to issue a report and request a copy of that report. (If the police refuse to issue a report, ask if they will issue a “Miscellaneous Incidents Report” instead or contact the state police.)

The FTC cover letter explains why a police report and an ID Theft Complaint are so important to victims of identity theft and includes the relevant statutory provisions.

Ask the officer to attach or incorporate the ID Theft Complaint into their policereport, and tell them that you need a copy of the Identity Theft Report (the police report with your ID Theft Complaint attached or incorporated) to dispute the fraudulent accounts and debts created by the identity thief. (In some jurisdictions the officer will not be able to give you a copy of the official police report, but should be able to sign your Complaint and write the police report number in the “Law Enforcement Report” section.)

4. Report the theft to the issuing institution.
Don’t forget to call the originating institution for the credit card or ID card that was stolen. For example, if your driver’s license was stolen, call the Department of Motor Vehicles in your area.

It’s also a good idea to call your banks and/or credit unions. The FTC has posted a sample letter that can be used as a template to contact institutions with regard to ID Theft on this page called Sample Letter to Request Fraudulent Transaction or Account Information.

5. Place a “Fraud Alert” on your credit reports.
Contact one of the credit reporting agencies listed below to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit cards. A “fraud alert” will be placed on your credit reports, and the agency you contacted will notify the other credit reporting agencies. These agencies are:

EQUIFAX Equifax Information Services, LLC
PO Box 740256
Atlanta, GA 30374
Phone: 800-525-6285

PO Box 2104
Allen, TX 75013
Phone: 888-397-3742

PO Box 2000
Chester, PA 19022
Phone: 800-680-7289

6. Compare your pre- and post-theft inventories.
Hopefully, you’ve created an inventory of all your ID cards and any magnetic strip cards such as credit cards, or frequent [flyer, latte, drug store, etc.] cards. This inventory should include the contact telephone numbers for each card. Compare the inventories before and after your identity was stolen.

7. Obtain and read the Terms of Services for every stolen card.
Different institutions may have different requirements, so get the contract and follow the steps they have outlined.

8. Close all accounts you believe have been tampered with.
It may be annoying and inconvenient, but it is much, much easier to close an account and open a new one than it is to chase after your identity thief.

9. Review your credit reports immediately.
Once you have placed a fraud alert on your credit reports, you will be given an opportunity to access your reports. Do it, and review them carefully.

10. Continue to monitor your credit.
ID theft issues can last for years, so make this a regular part of your financial routine.

Sources (these links will open in a new window):
The US Justice Department
National Crime Prevention Council

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