So You Think You’re The Victim Of Identity Theft… Now What?

With so many purchases being made online these days — and with more people using credit cards to buy things at retail locations — it’s surprising we don’t hear about massive data breaches every day. But alas, ID theft is an all-too-frequent occurrence, so it couldn’t hurt to know in advance the steps to take to minimize the damage.

The folks at the Federal Trade Commission have created a comprehensive guide called Taking Back: What to do if your identity is stolen [here’s the PDF] that not only provides detailed information but also sample letters, forms and contact info for various private and federal agencies.

But here are the basics everyone should know…
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports.
Contact any of the three consumer reporting companies (TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742)) to place a fraud alert on your credit report.
“You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert,” writes the FTC. “The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too. If you do not receive a confirmation from a company, you should contact that company directly to place a fraud alert.”

The fraud report entitles you to one free copy of your credit report from each bureau. Check those reports for inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted, accounts you didn’t open, and debts on your accounts that you can’t explain.

If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed.

2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Call each company with whom you have a possibly compromised account and speak to someone in the security or fraud department. Follow up in writing, and include copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents.

“It’s important to notify credit card companies and banks in writing,” says the FTC. “Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep a file of your correspondence and enclosures.”

If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or has fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the forms to dispute those transactions.

Once you have resolved the dispute with the company, request a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed accounts and has discharged the fraudulent debts.

3. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.
You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form; or call the FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580. Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.

Sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC can help law enforcement track down identity thieves. The FTC can refer victims’ complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.

4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
Call your local police department and tell them that you want to file a report about your identity theft. Ask them if you can file the report in person. If you cannot, ask if you can file a report over the Internet or telephone.

If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a “Miscellaneous Incident” report, or try another jurisdiction, like your state police. You also can check with your state Attorney General’s office to find out if state law requires the police to take reports for identity theft. Check the Blue Pages of your telephone directory for the phone number or check for a list of state Attorneys General.

The FTC has also created its own website dedicated to providing information for victims of ID theft. It’s one of those sites you should probably have bookmarked — but hope you never have to look at.


Edit Your Comment

  1. mauispiderweb says:

    Anyone … anyone … Bueller … Bueller … Frye?

    • Mr. Fix-It says: "Canadian Bacon is best bacon!" says:

      When Cameron was in Egypt’s lands…
      Let My Cameron Goooo…

  2. Fineous K. Douchenstein says:

    I waited 45 minutes and all I got was this lousy comment.

  3. Coffee says:

    5. When life gives you lemons, make lemonade! Use this as an opportunity to finally tell your parent or spouse about that $20,000 in credit card debt that you’ve been quietly racking up for the past few years. If they are trusting, they won’t ask to see your statement history, and the $83 the thief took to max out your card will be money well spent!

    • Oranges w/ Cheese says:

      don’t want your damn lemons, what am I supposed to do with these? Demand to see life’s manager! Make life rue the day it thought it could give Cave Johnson lemons! Do you know who I am? I’m the man who’s gonna burn your house down! With the lemons! I’m gonna get my engineers to invent a combustible lemon that burns your house down!

  4. jvanbrecht says:

    They make it sound so easy.. it is not..

    My wife had her name and SSN used by someone involved in Prepaid Legal (the pyramid scheme). They somehow made money, now whatever you think of Prepaid Legal (scum of the earth.. a few notches below regular lawyers), they do apparently follow income reporting requirements set by the IRS..

    About 2 or 3 years ago we get a notice from the IRS owing back taxes on commission earned via Prepaid Legal.

    Dealing with banks regarding ID theft and eventually getting your money back is a cake walk compared to dealing with the IRS trying to get a tax issue resolved.

    We submitted a police report, contacted the FTC to submit an additional report.
    Contacted the IRS, who made us jump through the hoops of contacting the FTC again, as well as contacting the Social Security Administration.

    It tooks 6 months to get the issue resolved, while the IRS kept hounding us for the taxes (apparently the departments do not talk to each other so while we had an open case, they kept trying to collect).

    Dealing with the IRS – 0/10 – They never answer the phone, the case manager we were assigned was never around, never responded to voicemails. Needed Power of attorney to deal with it for my wife, which was too much trouble and costly for us. So wife had to deal with it.

    Dealing with SSN – 0/10 – They made my wife cry on numerous occasions just based on their attitudes and the stress of the whole situation, spend hours on hold, was hung up on more then a dozen times and had to call back only to sit on hold again.. Would not allow me to handle the issue for my wife without going through the whole power of attorney thing.

    Dealing with the FTC – 8/10 – Oddly, they were mostly pleasant to deal with, never got hung up on, transferred around a few times, but the process was relatively streamlined.

    Dealing with Prepaid Legal -100000/10 – Those fuckers are absolutely horrible.. if the people running that outfit had to drop dead today.. I would dance on the grave of each and every person I dealt with. They claimed to be cooperating with the Police, the Police officer assigned to our case said the exact opposite. Since it was my wifes name and SSN, we tried to explain to them that providing us with all documentation that they (Prepaid Legal) had would not violate any privacy or client laws, since technically my wife is the client (even though we had never heard of them till this whole issue arose), They refused to help in any way.. I hope they all burn in hell..

    It was a seriously trying event, brought my wife to tears, and there was very little I could do outside of attempting litigation, which would require time and funds we just did not have.

    ID Theft sucks, and the gov currently has very little in place to help people through the process of getting their life back smoothly. The Agencies do not talk to each other. Hopefully something will happen soon.. but still.. I have a sour taste in my mouth from the whole event.

    • RandomHookup says:

      I’m curious as to why you need to deal with the SSA. They will rarely issue new SSNs and, it wouldn’t really make sense to try to adjust the earnings reported against the SSN.

      • jvanbrecht says:

        They required us to notify SSA because her SSN was used for fraudulent purposes (and probably because the IRS likes to make people jump through hoops)

  5. Garry Bentwick says:

    Why is it that when you run these kinds of stories that you steadfastly refuse to mention the Federal Privacy Act of 1974 and that you should NEVER give your SSN to anyone besides your employer, the bank or the IRS?

  6. Lethe says:

    Note- if you’re Canadian, you need to call the different credit agencies yourself (or at least they told me to).

  7. Hotscot says:

    And yet it is not a crime in the U.S. to use someone else’s identity unless it’s used to defraud you.

    • VeganPixels says:

      And yet it’s [i]still illegal[/i] to use someone else’s identity to defraud [i]anyone[/i], including you.

  8. brock0lee says:

    It’s a good idea to notify the Social Security Administration as well.

    • Garry Bentwick says:

      The SSA will be completely worthless to you. I had some trouble many years back and when I contacted them their response was (basically) “We just give them out. We don’t do anything about anything after they’re issued”.

  9. kwheless says:

    Get everything in writing. Keep it forever. Identity theft is like a zombie – it keeps popping up when you least expect it. I had a dozen credit card accounts opened fraudulently. I filed all the paperwork, police reports, etc., and eventually they were deleted from my credit history. Everything seemed to be settled. But then a couple of years later, they popped back up again! Thankfully I had the letters from the credit card companies confirming that the accounts were fraudulent, and I was able to get them deleted fairly easily. This happened three more times before they finally died for good. (It’s been more than 10 years but still, I wouldn’t be shocked if they came back from the dead once again.) Get it in writing. The phone and email are convenient but it doesn’t count unless it’s in writing.

  10. VeganPixels says:

    1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports.

    Place a freeze on your file with each of the reporting agencies, not a fraud alert.

    2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

    Credit cards and retail merchant accounts, yes. Bank accounts, no. Freeze the bank accounts. Close them AFTER the bank has credited your missing funds back to you.

    4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

    Step (3) actually.

    • I look at both sides of the story says:

      “Place a freeze on your file with each of the reporting agencies”

      As a public service announcement, let me emphasize the above: Freeze access to the big 3 credit reporting agencies BEFORE something happens.

      If you lock down your credit report, then absolutely no one (aside from banks, the government, etc.) can access your account. No access -> no report given -> no credit report given/no identify theft.

      Here’s how you lock down your credit report:

      * Go the the web site of each of the big 3 credit report agencies and read the requirements. * They’ll want a copy of your driver’s license and some other paperwork. You send this in by physical mail. There’s a one-time charge of $10/credit agency. No recurring fees.
      * You’ll get a PIN in the mail (not email). Never, ever lose that number because without that PIN, you’ll never be able to unlock (and access) your credit report. Without that PIN, you can’t get a loan or even check your own credit report.

      Unlocking your credit report: The requirements are now much easier and free. Use on-line access to each of the big 3 with your PIN and specify who can access your report and the time frame.

      You can now sleep easier at night.