HOW TO: Get Through Having Your Identity Stolen

After our last post on identity theft, regular Consumerist commenter trixare4kids sent us a great, well-crafted email detailing her own experience having her identity stolen. Better yet, she wrote us a personalized How To for getting through an identity theft crisis.

This is one of those gems we get from you guys every once and a while that could really only be sullied by adding additional commentary. Guys! Don’t be bashful in sending us stuff like this: you’re four times as clever and resourceful as us, by far.

Trix’s step-by-step tip guide after the jump.

I was the victim of Identity theft 5 years ago. In my case they got cell phones, bought furniture and TV’s from “Rent to Own” got power and lights and a land line telephone all using my name and SSN. I had no idea until I had a bad mark show up on my credit report. This was four years ago. It took 100+ hours to clear up the mess and to this day it keeps coming back every once in awhile. In my case, I suspect that my ID theft was a result of some kind of employee abuse or neglect at the headquarters of my health insurance company – either the employees were stealing my information, or someone didn’t shred important documents. They are located in Inglewood, California and that’s where all of the ID theft happened. Coincidence boys and girls?

Trixare4kids’ hard-earned personal tips and tricks for dealing with identify theft. (I don’t pretend to be a writer and I’m just trying to help, so easy on the snarky comments, my fellow consumerists.)

1) Read everything here. http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/ Five years ago, this site consisted of 3-4 pages that looked like something made in 1993, so it’s come a long way, baby. There are links to information, forms, and information about exactly what steps to go though, including how to contact the credit reporting agencies.

2) Get your credit reports and look carefully. Even if everything looks okay, be suspicious of “credit inquires” that don’t look normal to you. A bad mark was the first indication that something was wrong. But looking at the inquiries was how I found out they had cell phones in my name. Why would Verizon be looking at my credit? I’ve never been near them.

3) Breathe. You CAN get through this. It feels totally violating and nasty and it is. You will care a lot and other people will not care so much and no one seems to understand the enormity of what you feel. This too shall pass. Breathe. It really is one of those “no big deal” things until it actually happens to you but until then people just don’t really care about the injustice of it all.

4) Be prepared for judgment and advice about how you got to be a victim. Lung cancer patients always get asked, “Did you smoke?” Along those lines you will get questions like, “Well, did you give out you social security number?” Your helpful aunt Betsy will say, “See? I told you shouldn’t do your banking online. That’s what happens!”

5) Be prepared to spend at least

-1 hour per day (or more) each and every day until the mess is cleared up

6) Be disciplined. You need to work on this each and every day. This is NOT the time to let the folder slip to the side. It’s not the time to bury your head in the sand and hope it will go away (yes, I’m talking to the procrastinators out there), it’s not the time to let weeks or months slip by without having taken action or done any follow up work.

7) When I found out where they lived, I called the gas/power company in their area to see if they had an account. I also called all the other cell phone providers I could find to verify if there were accounts using my SSN.

8) Fill out a police report and get a notarized copy of your affidavit of identify theft. Keep copies as you are going to have to send a copy out to each and every creditor, possibly numerous times.

9) Oh yeah, don’t really expect the police to DO anything about it. Even if you know the name and address of the person who did it (as in my case), they don’t do jack. You have to file with your own local police department who has way better things to do. If they live outside your city, oh well. Try not to be offended that they don’t actually care, spend the energy on getting it cleaned up. See Tip #3

10) Be organized. Keep a separate file for each creditor. Keep a running diary of each and every contact, letter, response, phone call. Keep a calendar of reminders and follow up tasks, like when you are supposed to receive xyz document or when to follow up after someone has agreed to take something off your report, finally.

11) I cannot stress this enough. When calling each creditor: Write down the number you called, the exact name, extension number, employee number and department of each and every person you talk to, even if they just want to transfer you to another department. Take down the time and date you called and brief synopsis of the conversation. Trust me this comes in handy later when you are able to say, “Sandy Smithers from the Credit department verified that she received the fax yesterday at 3PM and was going to doodledingle the snozit so I can get this removed from my credit report.”

12) Be prepared that all of these creditors are going to be suspicious of you. It doesn’t matter that you’ve been living at the same address 500 miles away for upteen years, have had a cell phone with the same company for upteen years (and never even once paid late), have otherwise perfect credit with zero late payments. To them, you are low-life scum sucking scamster who is trying to get out of a debt. Get used to it. To be fair, this is mostly true of the collection agencies and not the actual companies themselves, but there are some bad apples in there. Breathe. (See tip #3)

13) Contact the Credit Reporting Agencies and dispute each charge in writing and send them the police report and notarized affidavit.

14) Put a statement of identify theft on all three of your credit reports. After that, no new credit can be issued in your name unless the creditor calls the number on the credit report (the number you give them). It lasts for something like 7 years, if I recall. Right after I had this done I got a call from car dealership! Those SOBs were trying to buy a car with my SSN! As for me, I applied for a new credit card about 6 months ago and someone from the CC Company called to verify that I actually wanted to open the line of credit. Worked perfectly.

15) Be persistent. Follow through, follow through, and follow through. I can’t say that enough. When the collection agency says they need you to fill out their form and send it back, call and make sure they have received it. If they need to send the form to you first in the mail, cajole them in to faxing it to you. If they won’t fax it to you, call after 5 business days if you haven’t received it. I had to call one collection agency every day for a month before they would send me their “fraud packet” which they insisted I needed before they could proceed. What did the fraud packet consist of!? A letter with some boxes to check off stating that they needed the very documents I was telling them I already had.

16) Be completely relentless and follow through some more. When the collection agency, creditor or credit reporting agency has agreed to remove the offending bit of data from your record get it in writing and get it faxed to you immediately. If they are not going to fax it, follow through if it doesn’t come in the mail within a 5 business days. Then get a fresh copy of your report (all three of them) to verify that it has actually been removed. If it has not been removed, send your written proof to each agency. Follow up again with a copy of your report, ad nauseam.

17) Never, ever, under any circumstances throw away your file(s). I had a collection agency sell the account to another collection agency 4 years after it had been verified as fraud and supposedly cleared. Had I not had all of the correspondence from the last company, I would have had to go around and around with them again.

18) When it’s finally all clear (and not until then), take yourself on a much needed vacation.

I’m sure there are some I’m forgetting and some of these are redden to the Government’s site, but this is my personal take.

Thanks, Trix! You’re our new favorite reader.

Comments

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  1. Paul D says:

    Might wanna fix the “IDENTITY THEFT” tag…

  2. lgf says:

    Excellent information!

  3. Ben Popken says:

    Jeff writes:

    “In Item #15, trixare4kids writes, “When the collection agency says they need you to fill out their form and send it back, call and make sure they have received it.” Here’s a better idea: before you send the form in, make a copy of it. Send the original form by certified mail, return receipt requested. Staple the certified mail receipt to your copy of the form. Once you receive the return receipt, staple that to your copy of the form also. This gives you written proof that the form was received by the collection agency. I got this tip from an attorney who specializes in consumer debt.”

  4. trixare4kids says:

    Jeff. Total genius. Where were you when I needed you 5 years ago!? I would also like to mention that if you use this method DO follow up with a phone call to make sure that they are actually taking action on it. I found I had to be very persistent to get them to take action or my letter or form would end up languishing in a pile someplace. This true mostly of the collection agenies.

  5. Mary Marsala With Fries says:

    Step 19: Since you’re doing all that record-keeping anyway, record how much time you’re spending on fixing up the mess. It might not be possible now, but eventually, gods willing, it’ll be possible to sue for that. And it’s good research info anyway. -M.

  6. Ben Popken says:

    Transuranic writes:

    Re: #14: “Hey guys – shouldn’t we ALL be putting a fraud alert on our files? You don’t even need to be a victim – the text on the line states “if you feel you are at risk for becoming a fraud victim” … well, given the way I bandy about my SSN in order to even buy a cuppa starbucks(tm), I’d much rather have to deal with a few expected phone calls every time I apply for credit (rarely to never) than with one iota of what Trix described.

    3 types of alerts depending on who you are:
    Anyone: An initial-90 day alert.
    Confirmed as a fraud victim, and have the report to prove it – 7-year extended alert.
    Military on Active Duty: 2-year Active Duty alert.

    Here are the numbers for the agencies. I called just now to do it. This is yet another example of something that a company SHOULD be doing on your behalf anyway… May I suggest doing this every time you move, too. (I had to leave my info on a voicemail since the numeric portion of my addr didn’t match their records…)

    • TransUnion: 800-680-7289 (menu’s not bad)
    • Equifax: 800-525-6285 (quick & easy menu)
    • Experian: 888-397-3742 (slow menu, told me to do the website instead of doing it by phone, and had spam-flavored ad offers. Told me that adding a phone number for the creditors to call me could slow down instant credit, duh. Bitches.)”

  7. PeteJayhawk says:

    Here’s my tip: Between the ages of 18-23, act in an appallingly irresponsible manner and completely ruin your credit rating. Then no one will WANT to steal your identity! Worked for me, even if cleaning up the aftermath of my college years is taking me the rest of my 20’s.

  8. Kat2 says:

    umpteen… it’s umpteen.

  9. trixare4kids says:

    Oh man, I knew the grammar and spelling police where going to crash the party.

  10. Ben Popken says:

    Karen writes:

    “I found out a couple of weeks ago that someone has been using my identity and my credit is a mess. I’ve been FREAKING OUT and instead of taking action I have just been frozen – that whole deer in the headlights thing, you know? So much information and I didn’t know where to start and I’ve just been avoiding the whole situation. How dumb is that, I know! Then this weekend I happened across the consumerist site and read the article by trixare4kids (silly rabbit!) about how to get through having your identity stolen. Today I’m feeling empowered to get some folder togeter, get reports, make a police report etc etc etc etc The step by step instructions along with dealing with some of the emotional issues was totally invaluable and I wanted to thank her personally for taking the time to write it.. I don’t have a login for your site, can you pleae forward or post this to her? I wanted to throw some good karma her way.

    Karen”

  11. Bysshe says:

    #14 – Ben, I’m completely with you. Instant credit is one of the worst ideas of the last and this century and the evil should be stopped. Can the call thing be renewed every 90 days?

  12. Crissy in Honolulu says:

    One of the most difficult things about fighting identity theft if you’re a woman is the whole married name thing. If you’ve changed your name and/or moved, it’ll be more difficult to communicate with the credit bureaus, and you’ll likely have to put at least your initial requests to them (even for access to your credit file!) in writing, as their automated phone systems may reject you. But you must, must, must be persistent.

  13. dog1 says:

    What happened to trix happened to me. The only difference is that I know exactly how the thieves got my information. I am one of those that responded to a phishing email (ebay). They managed to hit my email while I was on ebay bidding on several items and at that time I was very uninformed about this kind of criminal activity and also it was the very day the credit card I was using online was expiring! I had one of those awakenings about 2 hours after this happened to me and luckily I was able to secure everything very quickly. That was in early 2004,now skip ahead to mid 2006. This is when they finaly decided to really hit and I was not watching things as closely as I should have been. After over 2 years I had let my guard down. I was still doing credit monitoring but that does not always alert you quick enough. Fraud alerts had long expired on my credit reports. My advice to anyone else who has been phished and responded to the email is: NEVER let your guard down, keep fraud alerts in place at all times on all 3 credit reports. Sign up for online banking at your bank and look at your accounts everyday. If I had done these things I would have gotten off with very little trouble. It will soon be 3 years since that email changed my life forever. I really feel stupid for having fallen for such a scam and that makes the whole thing much harder to deal with.

  14. unwritten07 says:

    @dog1: Ebay phishters got me years ago too.

    Thanks for the tip. I wouldn’t be surprised if these guys sell lists of credit info every so often so that the new ‘owner’ takes another shot at your credit.

    Try not to be so hard on yourself, uninformed and stupid are not synonymous.