Step by Step Instructions After Your Identity is Stolen

Identity theft is rampant. Victims of identity theft have a long process ahead to clear up any false charges against their credit report or problems caused by a thief stealing their personal details.

In the course of a busy day, you may write a check at the grocery store, charge tickets to a ball game, rent a car, mail your tax returns, change service providers for your cell phone, or apply for a credit card. Chances are you don’t give these everyday transactions a second thought. But an identity thief does.

Identity theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years and thousands of dollars cleaning up the mess the thieves have made of a good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims of identity theft may lose job opportunities, be refused loans for education, housing, or cars, and even get arrested for crimes they didn’t commit. Humiliation, anger, and frustration are among the feelings victims experience as they navigate the process of rescuing their identity.

Working with other government agencies and organizations, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has produced this booklet to help you remedy the effects of an identity theft. It describes what steps to take, your legal rights, how to handle specific problems you may encounter on the way to clearing your name, and what to watch for in the future.

How Identity Theft Occurs

I first was notified that someone had used my Social Security number for their taxes in February 2004. I also found out that this person opened a checking account, cable and utility accounts, and a cell phone account in my name. I’m still trying to clear up everything and just received my income tax refund after waiting four to five months. Trying to work and get all this cleared up is very stressful.From a consumer’s complaint to the FTC, July 9, 2004

Despite your best efforts to manage the flow of your personal information or to keep it to yourself, skilled identity thieves may use a variety of methods to gain access to your data.

How identity thieves get your personal information:

  • They get information from businesses or other institutions by:
    • stealing records or information while they’re on the job
    • bribing an employee who has access to these records
    • hacking these records
    • conning information out of employees
  • They may steal your mail, including bank and credit card statements, credit card offers, new checks, and tax information.
  • They may rummage through your trash, the trash of businesses, or public trash dumps in a practice known as “dumpster diving.”
  • They may get your credit reports by abusing their employer’s authorized access to them, or by posing as a landlord, employer, or someone else who may have a legal right to access your report.
  • They may steal your credit or debit card numbers by capturing the information in a data storage device in a practice known as “skimming.” They may swipe your card for an actual purchase, or attach the device to an ATM machine where you may enter or swipe your card.
  • They may steal your wallet or purse.
  • They may complete a “change of address form” to divert your mail to another location.
  • They may steal personal information they find in your home.
  • They may steal personal information from you through email or phone by posing as legitimate companies and claiming that you have a problem with your account. This practice is known as “phishing” online, or pretexting by phone.

How identity thieves use your personal information:

  • They may call your credit card issuer to change the billing address on your credit card account. The imposter then runs up charges on your account. Because your bills are being sent to a different address, it may be some time before you realize there’s a problem.
  • They may open new credit card accounts in your name. When they use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, the delinquent accounts are reported on your credit report.
  • They may establish phone or wireless service in your name.
  • They may open a bank account in your name and write bad checks on that account.
  • They may counterfeit checks or credit or debit cards, or authorize electronic transfers in your name, and drain your bank account.
  • They may file for bankruptcy under your name to avoid paying debts they’ve incurred under your name, or to avoid eviction.
  • They may buy a car by taking out an auto loan in your name.
  • They may get identification such as a driver’s license issued with their picture, in your name.
  • They may get a job or file fraudulent tax returns in your name.
  • They may give your name to the police during an arrest. If they don’t show up for their court date, a warrant for arrest is issued in your name.

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