If you think your identity has been stolen, the Federal Trade Commission suggests
you do these things immediately.
Credit and Bank Accounts
WHN TIP – Last Statement: If you don’t have any of this information, try to find your last credit card statement – the info is there.
- Gather the following information:
- Credit card type
- Credit card number
- Cardholder’s exact name on the card
- You may be asked to provide your billing address, phone number, date of birth, social security number, etc. for verification purposes.
- Contact one of the three major credit bureaus. (As of April 2003, when you notify one bureau, that one has to notify the other two.)
- While you are on the phone with them:
- Write down the name of the person you’re talking with and their extension
- Have your file be flagged with a fraud alert, it lasts from 90 to 180 days, depending on the agency — ask which time period you will be working with. This tells creditors to contact you before opening new accounts or making changes to existing accounts. Consider extending the time period to seven years.
- Once the alert is placed, you may order a free copy of your credit report from all three major credit bureaus, all three will note the fraud alert.
- Ask what steps will be taken next and what you will need to do.
- Call your credit card companies.
- Close accounts that you know or think have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
WHN TIP – Card Cancellation: Remember if you are going to cancel cards it might be a few days or a week before you receive a new card(s). You might not be able to access or charge to accounts so make sure you have enough funds to last you until the new card arrives. Ask the credit card company or bank about options while waiting.
- Call your bank.
- Tell them about the ID theft – if numbers from your bank, checking or money accounts or if cash or debit cards have been stolen or compromised, report it immediately.
- Cancel accounts and obtain new card(s), account number(s) and password(s).
WHN TIP – Passwords: For important passwords, choose “strong” passwords – numbers and letters like 8HG5Y3N.
- For checking accounts, report the identity theft to check verification companies. You’ll need to pinpoint the last check you wrote.
- If you order new checks and they are rejected at stores where you shop, contact the check verification company that the merchant uses and alert them that you are an identity theft victim.
- Visit IdentityTheft.gov to report identity theft and get a recovery plan.
- Create an ID theft file folder or binder. Keep all your statements, affidavits and phone numbers together to track the process. Prefer digital files? Create a folder on your computer where you can save your scanned notes, any emails or digital reports or any other related information.
- Change your driver’s license number if it is listed on stolen checks or being used for other types of fraud.
- Contact your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name; if so, place a fraud alert on your license and fill out a DMV complaint form to begin the investigative process.
- If you have a family member who recently passed away, be aware that identity thieves may use that person’s identity. See the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Web site for help.
- If you believe someone is using your Social Security number, call the Social Security Administration’s fraud line, (800) 269-0271. (Download SSA’s Identity Theft and Your Social Security Number for more info.)
- Even if you don’t carry your SSN, it may be an ID number on your health insurance card, financial statements or as an account number at other institutions.
- Request a current report of your reported earnings to verify the accuracy and to make sure your name is reported correctly.
- Whether you have a passport or not, write the State Department at the passport office to tell them in case someone tries to get a passport in your name.
- Or, call (877) 4USA-PPT [(877) 487-2778] for the passport office nearest you.
- If you believe someone is making calls from your phone, call to cancel the account.
- If you don’t have the number of your cell phone company on hand, call (800) 555-1212 to get their toll-free number.
- You can block all service to your cell phone if it’s been stolen – read our “2 Steps to Finding Your Cell Phone’s Serial Number” article.
- Getting a new number? Ask if you can provide a password that must be used for all changes to your cell, local and long distance companies.
Fraudulent Change of Address
If you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of address with the post office or has used your mail to commit fraud visit the post office’s Web site and click on the “mail fraud,” “mail theft,” or “identity theft” links.
Working With Authorities
- Report ID Theft to your local police or sheriff’s department.
- Bring your folder with all statements, receipts, credit reports, etc. Give them as much documented evidence as possible.
- Get a copy of the report, with your investigator’s contact information, to creditors and anyone else who needs verification.
- Credit card companies and banks may ask you to show the police report in order to verify the crime, so keep copies of the report. (It is a violation of federal law and the laws of many states to assume someone’s identity for fraudulent purposes.) Some police departments may not write reports on this crime, so be persistent!
- A few days after the theft, contact the police department to check on the status of your case. Have your case number ready.
- Ask to speak with the detective who is assigned to your case.
- Introduce yourself, state your case number and when the theft took place.
- Ask the detective about the status of your case. Is it open or closed?
- Ask if there are any possible suspects.
- The police might also hand your case over to another agency (state police, FTC, FBI, IRS, etc.) if your case might be related to other crimes or scams. Ask for that agency’s contact person and details should you have any questions.
- Ask if there is anything you can provide to help.
- Request a copy of the police report for your records.
- Remember, the police do their best to follow up on the theft. However, it may not be possible to track down the perpetrator. Be patient.
- Now that you’ve completed these steps, you can file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). Complete this online form to send a complaint. The form can also be printed out for your records.
- If necessary, seek assistance, call your state’s attorney general’s office.
Review Your Credit Reports
- Save all credit reports as part of your fraud documentation.
- Review your credit reports from each bureau.
- Make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name.
- If fraudulent accounts are listed on your report, ask the credit bureaus for names and phone numbers to call and cancel these accounts if this information is not included on the credit report.
- You may also ask the credit bureaus to notify those who have received your credit report in the last six months (money lenders, banks, credit card companies, etc.) that fraudulent information is on your report.
WHN TIP – Debt Collectors: For additional information on dealing with debt collectors, read Fact Sheet No. 116 of the Identity Theft Resource Center, www.idtheftcenter.org under “Assistance.”
- In a few months, order new copies of your credit reports.
- Verify your corrections and changes, and look for any fraudulent activity.
- Your state laws might allow place a “security freeze” on your credit report,
meaning that nobody can access your credit history until you approve or “thaw” it. Visit your state’s attorney general’s Web site to find out about identity theft and freezing laws.
Credit Card and Bank Statements
Review your statements carefully and compare each charge to your statement.
- If your existing credit accounts have been used fraudulently, get replacement cards with new account numbers.
- If there are unauthorized charges, send a letter to the appropriate financial institution describing each questionable charge.
- In the letter, remind the financial institution of the date your card, checks or other important information was lost or stolen and when you first reported the problem to them.
- Be sure to send the letter to the address provided for billing errors.
- Do not send your letter with a payment or to the address where you send your payments unless you are directed to do so.
WHN TIP – Liability: In the event of bogus charges on your accounts, your maximum liability under federal law for unauthorized use of your credit card is $50. If you reported the loss before your credit card was used, the FCBA (Fair Credit Billing Act) says the card issuer cannot hold you responsible for any unauthorized charges.
WHN TIP – Timelines: You must report the error or unauthorized charge within 60 days after the company mailed the bill to you. The company must acknowledge the receipt of your letter within 30 days and must correct the error within 90 days or explain why it believes the statement is correct. (Nolo.com — Fair Credit Reporting Act)
- If you discover that an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing credit card account, close the account.
- When you open a new account, ask that a password is used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account.
Ongoing: Credit Reports
- Continue to keep an eye out for identity theft.
- Verify that your corrections and changes have been made and that there is no further fraudulent activity.
- In addition to accessing your credit report (ask each bureau how many free reports you qualify for and for how long – fraud victims may be able to receive extras), look out for:
- Being denied a loan you qualify for
- Being offered less favorable credit terms, like a high-interest rate, for no apparent reason
- Bank statements that don’t agree with your personal records
- Unexplained changes in your bank access codes
- Missing credit card bills or other mail
- Unusual calls regarding your personal or financial information
- Unexplained charges on phone or other consumer accounts
- Receiving credit cards that you didn’t apply for
WHN TIP – Fraud Alert Status: Consider whether you’d like to remove or extend the fraud alert flag on your credit report file(s). A fraud alert on your file may make it difficult to access “instant credit.” For example, if you’re at a store and they offer 10 percent off your purchases that day if you apply for and are approved for a store card on the spot, the alert may delay your qualification. If this convenience isn’t crucial, you may want to consider extending the alert.
Ongoing: Reviewing Credit Card/Bank Statements
- Review credit card statements and compare each charge to your receipts. If they continue to show any unauthorized activity, send a letter to the card issuer that includes:
- A description of each questionable charge
- The date you first reported the problem (identity theft and/or a stolen wallet) to the card issuer, if applicable
- Request for copies of the documentation, such as the application and transaction records, showing the fraudulent transactions.
- For additional information on dealing with debt collectors, visit the Identify Theft Resource Center.
Still Finding Fraudulent Activity?
- Contact each and every account listed on your credit report and any other companies you have financial transactions with.
- Ask to speak with the creditor’s security or fraud department for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Follow up with a letter summarizing your phone conversation by giving an overview of what was discussed and the next steps for both parties.
- Ask that they call you if anyone tries to open a new account in your name.
- Request to receive their complete file on you within 30 days. The file should include all applications, statements and any other information in your name.
- If you are wrongfully accused of crimes actually committed by the identity thief:
- Notify the court where the judgment was entered that you were a victim of identity theft (for civil cases) or the police department and the court in the jurisdiction of the arrest (for criminal cases).
- Contact the State Department of Justice and the FBI. Ask how to clear your name.
The information provided here is not meant to be a substitute for professional legal advice. These tips are from industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents and people who have shared real-life advice; always check with a lawyer or appropriate professional you trust before making any legal decisions.
Thank You …
A special thank you to the industry professionals, lawyers, insurance agents, first responders and people who gave us their time, insight and real-life advice.