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.