If you are the victim of identity theft, you must act quickly as soon as you learn that you were the victim of credit identity theft. Acting quickly will help prevent the thief from making further use of your identity. It will also make the process of restoring your credit easier.
You should keep a log of the date, time and substance of all personal and telephone conversations you have regarding your identity theft. Your notes should include the name, title and telephone number of each person to whom you speak. You should also follow up each phone call with a letter that confirms your conversation as well as any agreed-upon action. I is probably wise to send all correspondence by certified mail and keep a copy of each letter.
Each case of credit identity theft is different, and other than reporting the crime to the police, how you proceed may differ depending on the circumstances. You should review all of the following tips, depending on your particular circumstances.
- Report the crime to the police immediately. Give the police as much information and documentation as possible. Creditors, banks, credit reporting agencies and insurance companies may require you to provide a police report to verify that you are a victim of the crime of identity theft.
- Call the fraud units of the three major credit reporting agencies. Inform each credit reporting agency of the theft of your credit cards, account numbers or identifying information.
- Request that a fraud alert be placed in your file. Ask how long the fraud alert will remain posted in your file.
- Request that a victim’s statement be added to your credit report — for example: “My identification has been used to apply for credit fraudulently. Call me at ________ to verify any application for credit.” Some credit reporting agencies require that you provide a copy of your telephone bill to verify your identity.
- Request a copy of your credit report from each credit reporting agency. The credit reporting agency must give you a free copy of your credit report if you have been denied credit. If you certify to the credit reporting agency in writing that you believe that your file contains inaccurate information due to fraud, the credit reporting agency must give you a free copy of your credit report. In other circumstances, each credit reporting agency can charge you $8.00 for your credit report.
- Check each credit report carefully when you receive it. Look for accounts that you have not applied for or opened; charges that you have not incurred; inquiries that you have not initiated; and defaults and delinquencies that you have not caused. Check your identifying information carefully, especially your name, address and Social Security number.
- Request each credit reporting agency to remove all information that appears in your credit report as a result of the theft of your personal identification and credit information. It may take some time to have all of this erroneous information removed from each of your credit reports.
- Ask each credit reporting agency to send you a copy of your corrected credit report. When you receive your corrected credit reports, verify that all of the erroneous information has been removed from each report, and that each report contains the fraud alert and victim’s statement that you requested. It’s a good idea to send a letter to each credit reporting agency every two-three months explaining that you are the victim of credit identity theft and asking that you be provided a free copy of your credit report. This will enable you to check your credit reports for new erroneous information, and for previously-deleted erroneous information that may have reappeared. After July 1, 1998, credit reporting agencies must block reporting of any information that a victim of identity theft alleges appears in his or her credit report as a result of the crime of identity theft.
- Call each of your credit card issuers to report that you are the victim of credit identity theft. Ask each credit card issuer to cancel your card and provide a replacement card with a new account number. Immediately follow up each telephone call with a letter that confirms the conversation and the action the credit card issuer has agreed to take.
- Ask each credit card issuer about the status of your account. Ask if the card issuer has received a change of address request, or a request for additional or replacement credit cards. If you have not filed a change of address request or requested additional credit cards, instruct the card issuer not to honor these requests.
- A consumer’s liability for unauthorized use of a credit card cannot be more than $50. The consumer must notify the credit card issuer promptly upon learning of the unauthorized use. Most creditors will waive (forgive) the $50 if the consumer notifies the creditor within two days after learning of the unauthorized use.
- Also call each credit card issuer or creditor that has opened a new account that you did not authorize or apply for. These accounts probably will be listed in your credit reports. Explain that you are the victim of credit identity theft, and ask each issuer and creditor to close the account immediately. Some credit card issuers and creditors may ask you to sign an affidavit or to submit a copy of the police report on the theft of your personal identification information. Ask each issuer and creditor to inform each credit reporting agency that the account was opened fraudulently and has been closed.
- If your bank account information or checks have been stolen, or if a fraudulent bank account has been opened using your identification information, notify the bank and the check verification companies listed in the List of Resources below.
- Close your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers.
- Ask the bank to use a new unique identifier for your accounts. Do not use your mother’s maiden name, since this information is available in public records.
- Call the payees of any outstanding checks that you are not certain you wrote. The payee is the person or business to whom you wrote the check. Explain to each payee that you are the victim of identity theft and that you have closed your checking account for that reason. Ask each payee to waive (forgive) any late payment or returned check fee. Then send each payee a replacement check drawn on your new account and stop payment on the check that it replaces. It’s a good idea to enclose a note with each check explaining why you are sending a replacement check and reminding the payee that the payee has agreed to waive the late payment or returned check fee (if the payee has agreed to do so).
- Get a new ATM card and PIN. Do not use your old password or PIN.
- A merchant may refuse to take your check on the advice of a check verification company (because the thief has written bad checks in your name). The merchant will refer you to one of the check verification companies listed below. Call the check verification company and explain the situation.
- Contact the major check verification companies if you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up by an identity thief. In particular, if you know that a particular merchant has received a check stolen from you, contact the verification company that the merchant uses:
CheckRite — (800) 766-2748
ChexSystems — (800) 428-9623 (closed checking accounts)
CrossCheck — (800) 552-1900
Equifax — (800) 437-5120
National Processing Co. (NPC) — (800) 526-5380
SCAN — (800) 262-7771
TeleCheck — (800) 710-9898
- Notify your gas, electric, water and trash utilities that you are the victim of identity theft, and alert them to the possibility that the thief may try to establish accounts using your identification information. Provide similar notice to your local, long distance and cellular telephone services. Ask the utility and telephone services to use a new unique identifier for your accounts. Do not use your mother’s maiden name, since this information is available in public records. If your long distance calling card or PIN have been stolen, cancel them and obtain a new account number and PIN.
- If you have lost your driver’s license, or if you suspect that someone may be using your driver’s license number, contact your local Department of Motor Vehicles office (listed under “State Government” in the white pages of the telephone directory). It is possible to obtain a new driver’s license number under limited circumstances.
- If you suspect the improper use of identification information in connection with tax violations, call the Internal Revenue Service at 1-800-829-0433 to report the violations).
- If your Social Security number has become associated with dishonored checks and bad credit, it is possible, in extreme cases, to obtain a new Social Security number. The phone number for Social Security Administration is (800) 269-0271. In order to obtain a new Social Security number, your situation must fit the Social Security Administration’s criteria for issuing a second Social Security number.
- If you suspect that someone else is using your Social Security number for employment purposes, request a copy of your Social Security Earnings and Benefits statement. If the statement confirms this use of your Social Security number, contact the Social Security Administration.
- Be prepared for banks and credit grantors to ask you to fill out fraud affidavits to be notarized or signed under penalty of perjury. You can ask to have the fees for notarizing documents waived or reduced.
- If you suspect that an identity thief has stolen your mail or has filed a change of address request in your name, notify the Postal Inspector (see the “Postal Service” listing under “United States Government” in the white pages of the telephone directory).
- If you have a passport, notify the passport office that the identity thief may apply for a new passport (see the “Postal Service” listing under “United States Government” in the white pages of the telephone book).
- Erroneous civil or criminal judgment: The actions of a credit identity thief sometimes result in civil or criminal judgments being entered against you. If you are a victim of credit identity theft, and have had an erroneous civil or criminal judgment entered against you, you should consult an attorney about vacating the judgment.
- A new law effective January 1, 1999 is designed to help victims of identity theft who have had erroneous criminal judgments entered against them. Under this new provision, if a credit identity thief has willfully obtained another person’s personal identification information without that person’s authorization, has used that information to commit a crime in addition to the crime of identity theft, and is convicted of that additional crime, the court records must reflect that the person whose identity was falsely used to commit the crime did not commit the crime.
- Uncooperative creditor or credit reporting agency: Occasionally, a victim of credit identity theft may encounter a creditor or credit reporting agency that unreasonably refuses to cooperate with the victim as the victim seeks to restore his or her credit standing. For example.
- You may notify a creditor that you were the victim of credit identity theft, and may provide the creditor appropriate documentation, but the creditor continues to send report of debts incurred by the thief to the credit reporting agencies; or you may provide a credit reporting agency appropriate documentation and request the credit reporting agency to remove information from the your credit report that appears due to the theft of your personal identification and credit information, but the credit reporting agency does not remove the erroneous information from your credit report. If you are a victim of credit identity theft, and if you believe that a creditor or a credit reporting agency unreasonably or carelessly continues to report erroneous information that is the result of the theft of your personal identification and credit information, consider seeking assistance from an attorney.
- Demands to pay debts caused by the credit identity thief: Since you did not incur the debts caused by the thief, you ordinarily should not pay any debt which is the result of the theft. If a debt collector demands that you pay such a debt, you should explain why you do not owe the debt, and should send the debt collector a follow-up letter. You should consult an attorney if you receive demands to pay a debt caused by the identity thief, or if you receive notice of a legal action based on debts incurred by the thief.
Hopefully, this has provided some guidance should the unfortunate event of identity theft occur. If you have any questions about this or any other legal matter, feel free to contact us.