Identity theft affects hundreds of thousands of Americans annually. Victims' identities are stolen and used to commit a crime. Below are recommended steps to follow if you are a victim:
· Visit www.consumer.gov/idtheft for tips on resolving identity theft problems. Download the booklet ID Theft: When Bad Things Happen To Your Good Name or request it by phone from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling 877-438-4338.
· Request or download a uniform affidavit form from the FTC (see above contact information), which was developed in 2002 for victims to use to report a crime. It is accepted by all three credit bureaus and over 25 major creditors, thereby eliminating the need to file separate hand-written forms with many different companies.
· Call the "big three" credit reporting agencies: Experian (888-397-3742), Equifax (800-525-6285), and TransUnion (800-680-7289). Place a fraud alert on your file (reality check: fraud alerts are not fool proof. Unfortunately, some creditors overlook them and still open new accounts for identity thieves).
· Also request a current credit report (they're free if you believe you're a victim of fraud) from each credit reporting agency. Examine each report carefully for evidence of fraudulent activity. You can also add a "victim's statement" to your credit file that describes what happened and requests that creditors contact you before opening new accounts in your name. Review your credit reports every few months to verify that corrections were made and to look for evidence of new fraudulent activity.
· File a police crime report immediately in your hometown and/or with police in the location where your wallet was stolen, or where fraudulent charges were made. Get a copy of the police report in case your bank, credit card company or other institution needs proof of the crime.
· Send a registered letter to all creditors where fraudulent accounts have been opened. Include a copy of the police report to back up your claim. Request a letter from each creditor that acknowledges that the fraud took place and releases you from liability for fraudulent charges.
· Report the loss of an ATM card, debit card, or checkbook to your bank, as well as any account numbers that may have been stolen. Close existing bank checking and savings accounts and open new ones with new account numbers. Get a new ATM card with a new PIN number.
· Remember that changing bank account numbers will probably also require changing paycheck direct deposit arrangements, pre-authorized account withdrawals, and other types of automated deposits or bill paying (e.g., monthly car loan payments).
· Report a lost or stolen driver's license to the state Division of Motor Vehicles.
· Contact the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 if your Social Security number has been misused.
· Report the stealing of your mail to commit identity theft, or suspicions about falsified change-of-address forms, to your local post office inspector.
· If identity thieves have made unauthorized phone calls in your name, contact your service provider immediately to dispute the charges and establish new accounts.
· Keep copies of all correspondence with creditors and records of telephone calls (date, time, name of company and person talked to) to document your efforts to correct credit problems.
· Stay on top of things and be persistent! Cleaning up your credit file will take time and, at times, will feel like a "full time job". According to the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, average identity theft victims will spend about 175 hours recovering losses and cleaning up their credit history and about $800 for photocopying, postage, phone calls, and other expenses.