Credit Cards and Debt / Personal Finance

Dealing with Identity Theft

Trying to put all the pieces together in the aftermath of identity theft is the stuff of nightmares.  However, in the event that identity theft happens to you, know that the situation can be managed, and you will be able to eventually fix the problem.  Here’s a basic primer on what to do if identity theft ends up happening to you:

  1. Establish fraud alerts and notify the credit bureaus.  Immediately contact the fraud department of the three credit reporting companies – Experian, Equifax, and TransUnion.  The great part about this, is that if you notify one that you are at risk (or are currently suffering from) identity theft, it will let the others know.  Set up a fraud alert.
  2. Report the crime to your local sheriff or police department as soon as possible.  You might also have to report it to the police department in the area where the identity theft occurred if the thief is in a different area.  You’ll need to give them as much information and evidence as you can, and get a copy of the identity theft report.  You may have to furnish this to credit card companies and banks that come after you demanding repayment on accounts that were opened by the thief.
  3. Report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Make sure to do this after you report it to the police, as you’ll need the police report number.
  4. If your credit report shows that you have accounts opened by the thief, contact the creditors in question by phone and in writing.  Sometimes the creditors will ask for copies of the police report you filed, and have you fill out fraud affidavits.
  5. If the thief has tampered with accounts that you already had open in your own name, contact the credit card companies/banks in writing and by telephone.  Request new account numbers and replacement cards.  Change any and all passwords attached to these accounts to something obscure that could not be easily guessed.  A password that contains numbers, letters, and symbols is best.
  6. If debt collectors start to come after you to get payment on fraudulent accounts, insist upon getting the names of the collection company, the person contacting you, the phone number and address.  Some collection companies might require an FTC affidavit or a copy of the police report proving you were a victim of fraud.  When you prove this to the collection company, request written proof that they have recognized you as not responsible for the debt and that the account has been closed.
  7. If bank accounts have been set up in your name, have your bank report it to ChexSystems, a consumer reporting agency that collects information on checking accounts.  Additionally, place a security alert on your accounts.  Close your own accounts (even if they have not been tampered with) and open new ones with new debit cards and account numbers.  Change all passwords to your bank accounts to things that are hard to guess.
  8. If you encounter persistent harassment from creditors who are not cooperative in removing fraudulent activities from your account, despite having furnished proof of identity theft, you might have to take legal action.  Consider contacting the local Bar Association to consult with experts in consumer law.  Of course, in the event that the police apprehend the person responsible for stealing your identity, there will be criminal charges, as well.

These are just beginner, basic tips on how to deal with the frustration that is identity fraud.  Identity thieves have also been known to tamper with passports, driver’s licenses, medical theft, and others.  Be sure to monitor all of your accounts – not just monetary – if you even suspect you might be a victim of identity theft.  Be careful!