If It Happens to You...

What to Do if It Happens to You

This information provides victims of identity theft with resources that can be contacted when Identity Theft arises. Identity Theft is difficult to handle, because it involves so much research and documentation and you must act quickly. Members of Legal Access legal plans who have the Identity Theft Access Program have benefits and coverage that enable them to obtain direct help from counselors who have experience in how to handle an Identity Theft issue. Minimizing the damage to your assets and credit health are imperative.

Your counselors will tell you that one of the most important aspects of resolving Identity Theft issues is to keep records of all conversations, including dates, names, and phone numbers. Note time spent and expenses incurred in case you are able to seek restitution in a later judgment or conviction against the thief, or if you itemize your tax deductions, as you may be entitled to theft-related losses (consult your accountant). Make sure that you confirm all conversations in writing. While it is difficult, be sure to send correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep copies of all letters and documents.

Whether you handle these problems yourself, or use the Identity Theft Counselors available to you from Legal Access, these are the main steps to follow to restore your credit and your identity. Remember you are in a battle for your identity.

Note: California has become one of the leading states in proactively managing the Identity Theft issues. As a result, we cite a number of examples of California laws where they exist, so that the reader knows what to look for when checking their own states Identity Theft laws. Be sure to use the link in this Identity Theft Center to find your states laws. Do not rely on the California laws cited in these articles, if a different states laws apply to your situation.

  1. Credit bureaus. Immediately report the situation to the fraud units of the three credit reporting companies -- Experian (formerly TRW), Equifax and TransUnion. If you notify one bureau that you are a victim of identity theft, it is supposed to notify the other two, but notify them all to be safe. Report that your identifying information is being used by another person to obtain credit fraudulently in your name. Ask that your file be flagged with a fraud alert. Add a victim's statement to your report. ("One example - My ID has been used by another without my permission to apply for credit fraudulently.)

    Each credit bureau will mail you a free credit report once your file has been flagged with a fraud alert. Fraud alerts are usually placed for 90-180 days. You will want to extend the time period to seven years. Do so in writing following the directions sent in the credit report you receive? You may cancel fraud alerts in writing at any time. In all communications with the credit bureaus, you will want to refer to the unique number assigned to your credit report and use certified, return receipt mail. Be sure to save all credit reports as part of your fraud documentation.

    Once you have received your credit report, review it and look for items that you have not authorized or transactions that you do not recognize. Once identified, ask each credit bureau for names and phone numbers of credit grantors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened if this information is not included on the credit report. In writing, ask each credit bureau to remove inquiries that have been generated due to the fraudulent access. You may also ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months in order to alert them to the disputed and erroneous information (two years for employers). Some states also have a requirement that when you provide a police report to the credit bureau they are required to remove the fraudulent accounts from your report. California, for example, imposes this requirement (Under California law, when you provide your police report to the credit bureaus, they must remove the fraudulent accounts from your credit report) (C alif. Civil Code 1785.16(k)). Consult the specific Identity Theft law in your state to see if this requirement exists.

    You should know that these measures might not stop new fraudulent accounts from being opened by the imposter. Credit issuers are not required by law to observe fraud alerts. To prevent this from happening after discovery, you should request a free copy of your credit report every few months so you can monitor for fraud. Again, under many new state laws, victims are able to receive one free report each month for the first 12 months upon request. (California Civil Code 1785.15.3) . Even if your state does not yet have this provision, you should still order your credit report every three (3) months. You may be charged after the first report. Still it is important to check your credit report about every three months during the active phase of the crime.

    As an example, California law now enables individuals to place a "security freeze" on their credit reports. This essentially prevents anyone from accessing your credit file for any reason, until and unless you instruct the credit bureaus to unfreeze or "thaw" your report. It provides more protection than a fraud alert. If your identity thief is particularly aggressive and gives no indication of ceasing to use your identity to obtain credit, and if you live in California, you should consider using the security freeze to curtail access to your credit file. The security freeze is free to victims of identity theft. Non-victims who wish to use the security freeze for prevention purposes must pay a fee to activate the freeze. The web site of the California Office of Privacy Protection provides information on how to establish a security freeze, www.privacyprotection.ca.gov/sheets/cis10securityfreeze.htm.

  2. Creditors New Accounts. Once you discover the fraud, contact all creditors immediately with whom your name has been used fraudulently, by phone and in writing. This is where the work to restore your credit begins. You must document everything and everyone to whom you speak. Creditors will likely ask you to fill out fraud affidavits. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides a uniform affidavit form that most creditors accept. We have placed a copy of this Identity Theft Affidavit on this site at: Link to our site but get the document from here (Web: www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/affidavit.pdf). No law requires affidavits to be notarized at your own expense. You may choose to substitute witness signatures for notarization if creditors require verification of your signature.

    In writing you should ask the creditors to furnish you and your investigating law enforcement agency copies of the documentation, such as the application and transaction records, showing the fraudulent transactions. In some states, creditors are required to provide you with these copies (Example, California Penal Code 530.8). The California Office of Privacy Protection provides instructions and sample letters on how to obtain documentation from credit grantors, http://www.privacy.ca.gov/sheets/cis3aenglish.pdf. Check the link to your state to see if there is a similar requirement.

  3. Creditors Your Existing Accounts.If you have accounts or credit cards and these existing credit accounts have been used fraudulently, notify the companies immediately, in writing and on the phone, and request replacement cards with new account numbers. Ask that old accounts be processed as "account closed at consumer's request" (better than "card lost or stolen" because it can be interpreted as blaming you.) You should examine your bills carefully for evidence of any new fraudulent activity. Report it immediately to your creditors. Find out how to add secure passwords to all of your accounts. As we discuss elsewhere, do not use your address, SSN, your mothers maiden name or a word that is easily guessed.
  4. Debt collectors. One of the ways many Americans find out that their identity has bees stolen is when one or more debt collectors attempt to require you to pay the unpaid bills on credit accounts that you may not recognize or for activity on accounts that you may not recognize. One of the first concerns is to make sure the collector is legitimate and not a criminal posing as a collector - Ask for the name of the company, the name of the person contacting you, phone number, and address. Once you are satisfied they are a legitimate collection agency, even if you disagree with the bill they are attempting to collect, then proceed to commence the dispute process.

    Tell the collector that you are a victim of fraud and are not responsible for the account. Ask the collector for the name and contact information for the referring credit issuer, the amount of the debt, account number, and dates of the charges. Ask if they need you to complete their fraud affidavit form or if you can use the Federal Trade Commission form. Complete either the FTC Form or the Collection Agency form and send it Certified Mail, Return Receipt Requested immediately. Call them and write them with follow up to the debt collector explaining your situation. Ask that they confirm in writing that you do not owe the debt and that the account has been closed. Remember, they may not take your word for this and simply stop calling in the early stages of this contact. You must be patient and document every step. If you have completed a police report, send it along with your other correspondence. (For additional information on dealing with debt collectors, read Fact Sheet No. 116 of the Identity Theft Resource Center, www.idtheftcenter.org under "Victim Resources.")

  5. Police Department. It is imperative that you report the crime to your local police or sheriffs department. You might also need to report it to police departments where the crime occurred. Give them as much documented evidence as possible. Make sure the police report lists the fraud accounts. Get a copy of the report and try to make close ties with the investigator and you will need his/her help when you start unraveling the Identity Theft mess. Keep the phone number of your investigator handy and give it to creditors and others who require verification of your case. Make sure you remember that the police will likely not call your creditors and your creditors will not likely call your investigator without you facilitating these contacts Do not simply give the numbers of each to the other and assume they will take care of everything. In fact, the assumption should be that they will not take care of anything. You must do the work. If you have acces s to the Identity Theft Counselors through Legal Access legal plans call them and they will help you at each step.

    Be sure you realize that credit card companies and banks may require you to show the report in order to verify the crime. It is a violation of federal law (18 USC 1028) and the laws of many states (such as Calif. Penal Code 530.5) to assume someones identity for fraudulent purposes (Web site for state and federal laws: http://www.consumer.gov/idtheft/law_laws.htm).

    Naturally, you will run into the police departments that do not write reports on such crimes, so be persistent! One course of action when you face this police department refusal is to write a letter to the department (addressing it to the captain or manager who refused) and politely document their refusal. Detail the facts of your discovery and the facts of the theft. At least, you can use your own letter to the police as a form of police report.

    You should always file a report with the Federal Trade Commission. The report you file with the FTC, along with your letter documenting the police departments refusal to take a report, might also be used in lieu of a police report where the police department will not take a report.

  6. Stolen Checks. If you have had checks stolen or bank accounts stolen (or set up fraudulently in your name), report these transaction, in writing, to the appropriate check verification companies. You should use the FTC affidavit or your bank branch should be able to provide you with a fraud affidavit. Put stop payments on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of, and cancel your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers. Be sure to ask your bank for a secret password for your account (not mother's maiden name). If your own checks are rejected at stores where you shop, contact the check verification company that the merchant uses.
  7. ATM cards. If your ATM or debit card has been stolen or compromised, report it immediately. You should use the FTC affidavit or your bank branch should be able to provide you with a fraud affidavit. Contact your bank branch and request a fraud affidavit. Get a new card, account number, and password. Do not use your old password. When creating a password, do not use common numbers like the last four digits of your Social Security number (SSN) or your birth date. Monitor your bank statement. Under some states laws, if you do not act quickly and fulfill your obligation to report the fraud you may be liable. Be sure to read the debit card contract for liability. Some cards are better protected in cases of fraud than others.
  8. Fraudulent Change of Address. Criminals frequently complete change of address forms with the Postal Service. What this does is allows completed credit card applications to reflect the new address and be mailed to the new address [from applications stolen from a persons mail at their address before the change] where the criminal gets the mail, activates the new card and commits the fraudulent transactions.

    When you find out about this change of address, notify the local Postal Inspector if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of your address with the post office or has used the mail to commit fraud. (Call the U.S. Post Office to obtain the phone number, (800) 275-8777.) By checking your credit report, you can find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent. In writing, notify the local Postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. You may also need to talk with the mail carrier. (Web: www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect)

    Additionally, be sure to notify these creditors, in writing about the mail fraud and these fraudulent transactions. Be sure to include the written documentation you have with the Postal Service as evidence of this fraud.

  9. Social Security Number (SSN) misuse. Contact the Social Security Administration (SSA) to report fraudulent use of your SSN such as welfare or Social Security benefit fraud. They do not handle cases of financial or criminal identity theft. Many people believe that they can simply change their Social Security number. While there are different opinions as to whether and when this is advisable, you should understand that at the very least, this can be a major bureaucratic issue and may seriously impair other transactions throughout your life, once this Identity Theft issue is cleared. In general, we do not recommend this change except advised to do so by an attorney given the particular facts of your case. The SSA will only change the number if you fit their fraud victim criteria. See Fact Sheet 113 ("Victim Resources") at www.idtheftcenter.org for more information on this topic. (Web: www.ssa.gov)
  10. Passports. Whether you have a passport or not, write the passport office to alert them to anyone ordering a passport fraudulently. (See address at end.) (Web: http://travel.state.gov/passport/lost/lost_849.html)
  11. Secret Service Jurisdiction. The Secret Service has jurisdiction over the area of fraud related to financial issues. But, based on U.S. Attorney guidelines, it usually does not investigate individual cases unless the dollar amount is high or you are one of many victims of a fraud ring. To interest the Secret Service in your case, you may want to ask the fraud department of the credit card companies and/or banks, as well as the police investigator, to notify the Secret Service agent they work with. (Web: www.treas.gov/usss)
  12. Phone service. Provide a password which must be used any time your local, cell, and long distance accounts are changed. If your calling card has been stolen or there are fraudulent charges, cancel it and open a new account. Be sure to report this, in writing, along with the documents you have completed to the phone company(ies) involved. You may still be liable for the charges, and you may have to work with them to relieve your account of these charges.
  13. Drivers License Number Misuse. One of the easiest ways for criminals to transact Identity Theft is for them to steal or acquire your Drivers License or you license number. If this happens to you, you may need to change your driver's license number if someone is using yours as ID on bad checks or for other types of fraud. Call your states Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name. Put a fraud alert on your license if your states DMV provides a fraud alert process. Go to your local DMV to request a new number. Complete the DMV's complaint form to begin the investigation process. Send supporting documents with the completed form to the nearest DMV investigation office. Link to find the DMV in your state: www.aamva.org/links/mnu_linkJurisdictions.asp.
  14. Victim Statements. Many times, if the police catch a criminal or break up a theft ring, they will ask you to come to court and testify. If you are asked, consider writing a victim impact letter to the judge handling the case. Contact the victim-witness assistance program in your area for further information on how to make your voice heard in the legal proceedings. Read Fact Sheet 111 on victim impact statements at www.idtheftcenter.org under "Victim Resources.")
  15. False Criminal Judgments. Once the crime has been committed, other implications arise. One of these is where a victim of identity theft is wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the imposter. If you are wrongfully arrested or prosecuted for criminal charges, contact the police department and the court in the jurisdiction of the arrest. Also contact the state Department of Justice and the FBI. Ask how to clear your name. See PRC Fact Sheet 17g, www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17g-CrimIdTheft.htm.
  16. False Civil Judgments. Likewise, victims of Identity Theft can have civil judgments entered against them by creditors whose goods and services have been purchased by the criminal using the fraudulent identity. If a civil judgment is entered in your name for your imposters actions, contact the court where the judgment was entered and report that you are a victim of identity theft. This is more complicated than merely writing a letter, and this judgment may significantly impact your credit worthiness for years. You should consider retaining an attorney to assist if you have a civil judgment entered against you. If you are a Legal Access plan member you automatically have access, at no charge, to an attorney who can guide you and provide assistance on how to have the judgment removed, set aside or contested.
  17. Legal Help. It is absolutely a good idea [but never required] to consider consulting or retaining an attorney to determine legal action(s) to take to resolve many of these issues created by the criminal transactions.

    As an example, many attorneys can suggest specific legal actions to take against creditors and/or credit bureaus if they are not cooperative in removing fraudulent entries from your credit report or if negligence is a factor. If you are Legal Access legal plan member or have this Identity Theft coverage, you are entitled to consultations with the network attorneys who can help guide you with each aspect of your credit issues caused by this Identity Theft. If you are a senior citizen or take care of a dependent adult, and have Legal Access legal plan or Elder Law coverage, you are entitled to consultations with the network attorneys who can help guide you with each aspect of your credit issues caused by this Identity Theft.

    If you are not a Legal Access member, you might consider calling the local Bar Association, a Legal Aid office in your area (for low-income households), or the National Association of Consumer Advocates (www.naca.net/resource.htm) to find an attorney who specializes in consumer law, the Fair Credit Reporting Act and the Fair Credit Billing Act. If you are a senior citizen or take care of a dependent adult, be sure to look under Elder Law or Aging and Independent Services for referral centers.

  18. Other Forms of Identity Theft. Sometimes you may learn that a deceased relatives information is being used to perpetrate identity theft, or if you personally know the identity thief, additional information about how to address these situations is available in other parts of this web site. See www.idtheftcenter.org/vguides.shtml
  19. Dealing with Emotional Stress. Absolutely, one of the most problematic issues related to Identity Theft is the mental stress that it creates. Hopes of new purchases are dashed, frustration seems to be at every turn, new phone calls demanding payment for items never purchased shatter your peace, collection agency callers rudeness is upsetting, paperwork and letter-writing seem endless, progress in dealing with huge bureaucracies like credit bureaus is painstakingly slow, and the work time lost can be expensive. Others must face jail time, attorneys fees, lawsuits, judgments and complete fortunes wiped out.

    There are psychological counseling may help you deal with the stress and anxiety commonly experienced by victims. Know that you are not alone. There are resources that can help in this area. Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for information on how to network with other victims and deal with the impact of this crime. Web: www.idtheftcenter.org (Fact Sheet 108, "Victim Resources")

  20. Remember You Are In A Battle For Your Identity. Resist the temptation to pay any bill or portion of a bill that is a result of fraud. Do not cover any checks that were written or cashed fraudulently. Do not file for bankruptcy. With proper help and guidance, your credit rating should not be permanently affected. No legal action should be taken against you. If any merchant, financial company or collection agency suggests otherwise, restate your willingness to cooperate, but don't allow yourself to be coerced into paying fraudulent bills. Report such attempts to government regulators immediately.


Credit Reporting Bureaus

Equifax: P.O. Box 105069, Atlanta, GA 30348. Report fraud: Call (800) 525-6285 and write to address above. Order credit report: (800) 685-1111. TDD: (800) 255-0056 Web: www.equifax.com

Experian (formerly TRW): P.O. Box 9532 Allen, TX 75013. Report fraud: Call (888) EXPERIAN (888-397-3742) and write to address above. Order credit report: (888) EXPERIAN. TDD: Use relay to fraud number above. Web: www.experian.com

TransUnion: P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834. Report fraud: (800) 680-7289 and write to address above. Order credit report: (800) 888-4213. TDD: (877) 553-7803 E-mail (fraud victims only): fvad@transunion.com Web: www.transunion.com

To opt out of pre-approved offers of credit for all three bureaus, call (888) 5OPTOUT (888-567-8688). You may choose a two-year opt-out period or permanent opt-out status.

Remember, you are entitled to a free credit report if you are a victim of identity theft, if you have been denied credit, if you receive welfare benefits, or if you are unemployed.

To Remove Your Name from Mail and Phone Marketing Lists Direct Marketing Association
-- Mail Preference Service, P.O. Box 643, Carmel, NY 10512.
-- Web: www.dmaconsumers.org. Online opt-out program costs $5.00. It is free by mail.

FTCs telemarketing Do Not Call registry
-- (888) 382-1222
-- Online registration: www.donotcall.gov

To Report Fraudulent Use of Your Checks

  • CheckRite: (800) 766-2748
  • Chexsystems: (800) 428-9623
  • CheckCenter/CrossCheck: (800) 843-0760
  • Certigy/Equifax: (800) 437-5120
  • International Check Services: (800) 526-5380
  • SCAN: (800) 262-7771
  • TeleCheck: (800) 710-9898

Social Security Administration

U.S. State Department, Passport Services
U.S. Dept. of State, Passport Services, Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section, 1111 19th St., NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036.

Other Useful Resources

  • Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC offers information for victims. File your case with the FTC Consumer Response Center. Include your police report number. Use the FTC uniform affidavit form. (877) IDTHEFT (877-438-4338) Web: www.consumer.gov/idtheft
  • FBI Internet Fraud Complaint Center, Web: www.ifccfbi.gov
  • U.S. Dept. Of Justice, identity theft information. Web: www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/idtheft.html

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