identity theft victim
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 Identity Theft
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 Identity Theft, In-depth
 I'm a Victim: Now What?
identity theft victim

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My identity has been stolen. What now?

Consider your identity theft incident as your "case." Your primary goals are to:

  • close fraudulent accounts
  • clear yourself of responsibility for any debts or other criminal activities the thief has perpetrated in your name
  • ensure that your credit report is correct, and
  • find out as much information about the suspect as you can so you can share that information with the police and the FTC
  • Develop a plan of action to accomplish these goals. Make a list of the documents you'll need and a list of companies from which you'll need to get those documents.
  • When contacting a company, don't assume that the person you talk to will give you all the information you need. Determine in advance what information or result you want and develop a list of questions or a strategy to achieve your goal. For example, the company you call first may say they weren't the ones that extended the credit to the thief. But if you ask, they may be able to tell you which company that did. Listen carefully and take notes. Don't end the call until you're sure you understand everything you've been told. If you don't feel you're getting the help you need, ask to speak to a supervisor.

The following tips can help keep your case organized:

  • Follow up in writing with all contacts you've made on the phone or in person. Use certified mail, return receipt requested.
  • Keep copies of all correspondence or forms you send.
  • Keep a list of anyone you talk to, what you were told, and the date of the conversation. Use Chart Your Course of Action.
  • Keep originals of supporting documentation, like police reports and letters to and from creditors; share copies only.
  • Set up a filing system for easy access to your paperwork.
  • Keep old files even if you think your case is closed. Although most cases once resolved, stay resolved, in some cases, problems can crop up again. Should this happen, you'll be glad you kept your files.
What are the first steps I should take if I'm a victim of identity theft?
Follow up all calls in writing. Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep copies for your files.

1. Call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts, and all three credit reports will be sent to you free of charge. For more information about fraud alerts, see What are fraud alerts and victim statements?

Once you receive your reports, review them carefully to make sure no fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. See What should I look for on a credit report to indicate identity theft? and How I do correct inaccurate information on my credit report? You should continue to check your reports periodically, especially in the first year of discovery, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

Please note: The automated “one-call” process only works for the initial placement of your fraud alert. Orders for additional credit reports or renewals of your fraud alerts must be made separately at each of the three major credit bureaus.

2. Contact the creditors (for example, credit card companies, phone companies and other utilities, and banks and other lenders) to close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each creditor. It's particularly important to notify credit card companies in writing. See What do I do if someone has tampered with my existing accounts? See What should I do about unauthorized charges on my credit cards? See What do I do if someone has opened new credit accounts in my name?

3. File a report with your local police. Get a copy of the police report in case the creditors, credit bureaus or others need proof of the crime. See How do I prove that I'm an identity theft victim? or What should I do if the local police will not take a report from me?

4. File a complaint with the FTC. The FTC maintains a database of identity theft cases which are used by law enforcement agencies for investigations. Filing a complaint also helps us learn more about identity theft and the problems victims are having so that we may better assist you. See Filing a Complaint with the FTC.

What should I look for on a credit report to indicate identity theft?
Check your credit reports carefully to make sure the information is accurate. Look for inquiries you didn't initiate, accounts you didn't open and unexplained debts on your legitimate accounts. Check that information like your SSN; address(es); name and any variations, including initials, Jr., Sr., etc.; and employers is correct. Inaccuracies in this information may also be due to typographical errors. Nevertheless, whether the inaccuracies are due to fraud or error, notify the credit bureau as soon as possible by telephone and in writing. See How do I correct inaccurate information on my credit report? or How to Dispute Credit Report Errors.

Inquiries on credit reports from potential credit card issuers do not always mean that some one has tried to get credit in your name. Banks and credit card companies often inquire about a consumer's creditworthiness to help them target their marketing efforts. These inquiries will be identified in a designated section of the report.

How can I get copies of my credit reports?
Contact each of the three major credit bureaus:

Equifax - www.equifax.com
To order your report, call: 800-685-1111 or write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

To report fraud, call: 800-525-6285 and write:
P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
Hearing impaired call 1-800-255-0056 and ask the operator to call the Auto Disclosure Line at 1-800-685-1111 to request a copy of your report.

Experian - www.experian.com
To order your report, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) or write:
P.O. Box 2002, Allen TX 75013

To report fraud, call: 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) and write:
P.O. Box 9530, Allen TX 75013
TDD: 1-800-972-0322

Trans Union - www.transunion.com
To order your report, call: 800-888-4213 or write:
P.O. Box 1000, Chester, PA 19022

To report fraud, call: 800-680-7289 and write:
Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92634
TDD: 1-877-553-7803

How much does a credit report cost?
Each credit bureau may charge you up to $9.00 for a copy of your report. However, you are entitled to one free report a year if you can show that: your report is inaccurate because of fraud; you're on welfare; or you're unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days. There also is no charge if a company has taken adverse action against you, such as denying your application for credit, insurance or employment, and you request your report within 60 days of receiving the notice of the adverse action.

How do I prove that I'm an identity theft victim?
Identity theft victims often find themselves having to prove that they're victims, not deadbeats trying to get out of paying bad debts. So how do you go about proving you didn't do something? Getting the right documents and getting them to the right people is key.

The Police Report: The police report is an important document for providing proof of the crime. Many creditors want a copy in order to absolve you of the fraudulent debts. Send a copy to each of the three major credit bureaus. They will block, or remove, the information you're disputing from your credit reports. This may take up to 30 days. The credit bureaus have the right to remove the block, or reinstate the information, if they believe it was wrongly placed. Because this initiative is voluntary, except in a few states (see Laws), it's important to also follow the dispute procedures outlined in How do I correct inaccurate information on my credit reports? Contact the credit bureaus to find out more about how this initiative works. If you're having trouble getting a police report, see What should I do if the local police will not take a report from me?

The ID Theft Affidavit: The FTC, in conjunction with banks, credit grantors and consumer advocates, developed the ID Theft Affidavit to help you close unauthorized accounts and get rid of debts wrongfully attributed to your name. If you don't have a police report or any paperwork from creditors, send the completed ID Theft Affidavit to the three major credit bureaus. They will use it to start the dispute investigation process. You also can send the ID Theft Affidavit to creditors. Not all companies accept the ID Theft Affidavit. They may require you to use their forms instead. Check first.

Creditor Documentation: Getting documentation from a creditor may be difficult, but you should try. Creditors' policies on confidentiality and record keeping vary and may prevent you from getting the paperwork you need to prove you didn't make a transaction. On the upside, most victims can get accounts closed and debts dismissed by completing the creditor's fraud paperwork, or the ID Theft Affidavit, and including a copy of a police report. Insist on a letter from the creditor stating that they have closed the disputed accounts and have discharged you of the fraudulent debts. This letter is your best defense if errors reappear or your personal information gets re-circulated. This letter also is the best document to give credit bureaus and debt collectors if your police report and ID Theft Affidavit aren't enough to resolve your problems with them.

What are fraud alerts and victim statements?
Fraud alerts let creditors know that fraud has been associated with your credit report. As a result, creditors may confirm that they're dealing with you and not an imposter before granting credit or other services.

Victim statements tell creditors to contact you before granting credit or other services. Victim statements may cause delays in getting credit while the creditor tries to contact you. If you have a cell phone, you may want to include that number in your statement.


Are fraud alerts and victim statements always effective?
Fraud alerts and victim statements seem to be generally effective. However, because credit grantors do not have to consider them when extending credit, you should continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially in your first year of discovery, to make sure no new fraudulent activity is taking place.

What should I do if the local police will not take a report from me?
There are efforts at the federal, state and local level to ensure that local law enforcement agencies understand identity theft, its impact on victims, and the importance of taking a police report. However, we still hear that some departments are not taking reports. The following tips may help you to get a report if you're having difficulties:

Furnish as much documentation as you can to prove your case. Debt collection letters, credit reports, your notarized ID Theft Affidavit, and other evidence of fraudulent activity can help demonstrate the seriousness of your case.

Be persistent if local authorities tell you that they can't take a report. Stress the importance of a police report; many creditors require one to resolve your dispute. Remind them that credit bureaus will automatically block the fraudulent accounts and bad debts from appearing on your credit report, but only if you can give them a copy of the police report.

If you're told that identity theft is not a crime under your state law, ask to file a Miscellaneous Incident Report instead.

If you can't get the local police to take a report, try your county police. If that doesn't work, try your state police.
What do I do if someone has tampered with my existing accounts?

Contact the fraud department of the company where your account has been tampered with.

Close the account and open a new one. Get a new personal identification number (PIN) or password when you open the new account. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

Dispute in writing any charges run up by the identity thief on those accounts. Insist on having debits reinstated. Ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. If the company doesn't have special forms, you can use this sample letter. See What should I do about unauthorized charges on my credit cards? and How do I get back money that was stolen from my debit card account or through other electronic fund transfers?

What should I do about unauthorized charges on my credit cards?
The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts, including fraudulent charges on your accounts and limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card.

To take advantage of the law's consumer protections, you must:

Write to the creditor at the address given for "billing inquiries," not the address for sending your payments. Include your name, address, account number and a description of the billing error, including the amount and date of the error.

Send your letter so that it reaches the creditor within 60 days after the first bill containing the error was mailed to you. If the address on your account was changed by an identity thief and you never received the bill, your dispute letter still must reach the creditor within 60 days of when the creditor would have mailed the bill. This is why it's so important to keep track of your billing statements and immediately follow up when your bills don't arrive on time.

Send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt. This will be your proof of the date the creditor received the letter. Include copies (NOT originals) of sales slips or other documents that support your position. Keep a copy of your dispute letter.

The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after receiving your letter.

For more information, see Fair Credit Billing and Avoiding Credit and Charge Card Fraud.

What do I do if someone is using my checks?
If your checks have been stolen or misused, close the account and ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business. While no federal law limits your losses if someone steals your checks and forges your signature, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from a forged check. At the same time, most states require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.

You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services:

To request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks, call:

TeleCheck:
1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188

Certegy, Inc. (previously Equifax Check Systems):
1-800-437-5120

To find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name, call: SCAN: 1-800-262-7771

How do I get back money that was stolen from my debit card account or through other electronic fund transfers?
The Electronic Fund Transfer Act provides consumer protections for transactions involving an ATM or debit card or other electronic way to debit or credit an account. It also limits your liability for unauthorized electronic fund transfers.

It's important to report lost or stolen ATM and debit cards immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.

If you report your ATM card lost or stolen within two business days of discovering the loss or theft, your losses are limited to $50.

If you report your ATM card lost or stolen after two business days, but within 60 days after a statement showing an unauthorized electronic fund transfer, you can be liable for up to $500 of what a thief withdraws.

If you wait more than 60 days, you could lose all the money that was taken from your account after the end of the 60 days and before you report your card missing.
The best way to protect yourself in the event of an error or fraudulent transaction is to call the financial institution and follow up in writing - by certified letter, return receipt requested - so you can prove when the institution received your letter. Keep a copy of the letter you send for your records.

After receiving notification about an error on your statement, the institution generally has 10 business days to investigate. The financial institution must tell you the results of its investigation within three business days after completing it and must correct an error within one business day after determining that the error has occurred. If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation - but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit. At the end of the investigation, if no error has been found, the institution may take the money back if it sends you a written explanation.

Note: VISA and MasterCard have voluntarily agreed to limit consumers' liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards in most instances to $50 per card, no matter how much time has elapsed since the discovery of the loss or theft of the card.

For more information, see Electronic Banking and Credit, ATM and Debit Cards: What to do if They're Lost or Stolen

What do I do if someone has opened new credit accounts in my name?
Contact the fraud department of each creditor. Close the accounts and dispute any charges run up on those accounts. Do not pay the charges. Most creditors will require you to fill out fraud forms. To save yourself time, ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit. If not, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. Find out what, if any, other documentation, such as a police report, the company will need. Try to get them to give you as much documentation of the fraudulent transaction or information about the identity thief as you can.

How do I find contact information for a company that has opened fraudulent accounts?
If the company is listed in your credit report, the credit bureau can provide the contact information. If it's a well-known company, you may be able to obtain a listing from your telephone directory book or the toll-free directory (1-800-555-1212). You also can use a search engine on the Internet, or your local librarian may be able to help you.

How do I correct inaccurate information on my credit reports?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes procedures for correcting mistakes on your credit record and requires that your record be made available only for certain legitimate business needs.

Under the FCRA, both the credit bureau and the organization that provided the information to the credit bureau (the "information provider"), such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting inaccurate or incomplete information in your report. To protect your rights under the law, contact both the credit bureau and the information provider.

First, call the credit bureau and follow up in writing. Tell them what information you believe is inaccurate. Include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. In addition to providing your complete name and address, your letter should clearly identify each item in your report that you dispute, give the facts and explain why you dispute the information, and request deletion or correction. You may want to enclose a copy of your report with circles around the items in question. Your letter may look something like this sample. Send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt so you can document what the credit bureau received and when. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures.

Credit bureaus must investigate the items in question - within 30 or 45 days (depending on whether you provide additional information) - unless they consider your dispute frivolous. They also must forward all relevant data you provide about the dispute to the information provider. After the information provider receives notice of a dispute from the credit bureau, it must investigate, review all relevant information provided by the credit bureau and report the results to the credit bureau. If the information provider finds the disputed information to be inaccurate, it must notify any nationwide credit bureau that it reports to so that the credit bureaus can correct this information in your file. Note that:

Disputed information that cannot be verified must be deleted from your file.

If your report contains erroneous information, the credit bureau must correct it.

If an item is incomplete, the credit bureau must complete it. For example, if your file shows that you have been late making payments, but fails to show that you are no longer delinquent, the credit bureau must show that you're current.

If your file shows an account that belongs to someone else, the credit bureau must delete it.
When the investigation is complete, the credit bureau must give you the written results and a free copy of your report if the dispute results in a change. If an item is changed or removed, the credit bureau cannot put the disputed information back in your file unless the information provider verifies its accuracy and completeness, and the credit bureau gives you a written notice that includes the name, address and phone number of the information provider.

If you request, the credit bureau must send notices of corrections to anyone who received your report in the past six months. Job applicants can have a corrected copy of their report sent to anyone who received a copy during the past two years for employment purposes. If an investigation does not resolve your dispute, ask the credit bureau to include your statement of the dispute in your file and in future reports.

Second, in addition to writing to the credit bureau, tell the creditor or other information provider in writing that you dispute an item. Again, include copies (NOT originals) of documents that support your position. Many information providers specify an address for disputes. If the information provider then reports the item to any credit bureau, it must include a notice of your dispute. In addition, if you are correct - that is, if the disputed information is not accurate - the information provider may not use it again.

For more information, consult How to Dispute Credit Report Errors and Fair Credit Reporting.

If you provide a copy of your police report, the credit bureaus will automatically block the inaccurate information from appearing on your credit reports sent to companies that request your report. This may take up to 30 days. The credit bureaus have the right to remove the block, if they believe it was wrongly placed. Except in a few states which have made it a law, blocking the inaccurate information based on a police report is a voluntary initiative by the credit bureaus. It is not part of the FCRA, therefore it's still important to follow all the steps previously mentioned in order to obtain the full benefits due you under the law. Contact the credit bureaus to find out more about how this initiative works. If you're having trouble getting a police report, see What should I do if the local police will not take a report from me?

How do I stop debt collectors from contacting me?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using unfair or deceptive practices to collect overdue bills that a creditor has forwarded for collection.

You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once the debt collector receives your letter, the company may not contact you again - with two exceptions: they can tell you there will be no further contact and they can tell you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.

A collector also may not contact you if, within 30 days after you receive the written notice, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe the money. In this case, a collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt. So, along with your letter stating you don't owe the money, include copies of documents that support your position. Including a copy (NOT an original) of the police report you filed may be particularly useful.

If you don't have documentation to support your position, be as specific as possible about why the debt collector is mistaken. The debt collector is responsible for sending you proof that you're wrong. For example, if the debt in dispute originates from a credit card you never applied for, ask for the actual application containing the applicant's signature. You can then prove that it's not your signature on the application. However, in many cases, the debt collector will not send you any proof, but will instead return the debt to the creditor.

Remember, while you can stop the debt collectors from contacting you, that won't necessarily get rid of the debt itself. It's important to contact the creditors individually to dispute the debt otherwise the creditor may send it to a different debt collector, report it on your credit report, or institute a lawsuit.

For more information, consult Fair Debt Collection.

What do I do if someone has filed for bankruptcy in my name?
If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy in your name, write to the U.S. Trustee (UST) in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. A list of the U.S. Trustee Programs's Regional Offices is available on the UST Web site, or check the Blue Pages of your phone book under U.S. Government Bankruptcy Administration.

Your letter should describe the situation and provide proof of your identity. The U.S. Trustee, if appropriate, will make a criminal referral to law enforcement authorities if you provide appropriate documentation to substantiate your claim. You also may want to file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney and/or the FBI in the city where the bankruptcy was filed. The U.S. Trustee does not provide legal representation, legal advice or referrals to lawyers. That means you may need to hire an attorney to help convince the bankruptcy court that the filing is fraudulent. The U.S. Trustee does not provide consumers with copies of court documents. Those documents are available from the bankruptcy clerk's office for a fee.

What do I do about criminal records made in my name?
Although procedures to correct your record within criminal justice databases vary from state to state, and even from county to county, the following information can be used as a general guide.

If criminal violations are wrongfully attributed to your name, contact the arresting or citing law enforcement agency - that is, the police or sheriff's department that originally arrested the person using your identity, or the court agency that issued the warrant for the arrest. File an impersonation report to confirm your identity. The police department may take a full set of your fingerprints and your photograph, and copies any photo identification documents like your driver's license, passport or visa. They should compare the prints and photographs with those of the imposter to establish your innocence. If the arrest warrant is from a state or county other than where you live, ask your local police department to send the impersonation report to the police department in the jurisdiction where the arrest warrant, traffic citation or criminal conviction originated.

The law enforcement agency should then recall any warrants and issue a "clearance letter" or certificate of release (if you were arrested/booked). You'll need to keep this document with you at all times in case you're wrongly arrested. Also, ask the law enforcement agency to file, with the district attorney's (D.A.) office and/or court where the crime took place, the record of the follow-up investigation establishing your innocence. This will result in an amended complaint being issued. Once your name is recorded in a criminal database, it's unlikely that it will be completely removed from the official record. Ask that the "key name," or "primary name," be changed from your name to the imposter's name (or to "John Doe" if the imposter's true identity is not known), with your name noted only as an alias.

You'll also want to clear your name in the court records. You'll need to determine which state law(s) will help you do this and how. If your state has no formal procedure for clearing your record, contact the D.A.'s office in the county where the case was originally prosecuted. Ask the D.A.'s office for the appropriate court records needed to clear your name.

Finally, contact your state DMV to find out if your driver's license is being used by the identity thief. Ask that your files be flagged for possible fraud.

You may need to hire a criminal defense attorney to help you clear your name. Contact Legal Services in your state or your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.

What do I do if the identity thief has gotten a driver's license in my name?
If you think your name or SSN is being used by an identity thief to get a driver's license or a non-driver's ID card, contact your DMV. If your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number.

What do I do about investment transactions made in my name?
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) Office of Investor Education and Assistance serves investors who complain to the SEC about investment fraud or the mishandling of their investments by securities professionals. If you believe that an identity thief has tampered with your securities investments or a brokerage account, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the SEC. You can file a complaint with the SEC using the online Complaint Center at: www.sec.gov/complaint.shtml.

Be sure to include as much detail as possible. If you don't have access to the Internet, you can write to the SEC at: SEC Office of Investor Education and Assistance, 450 Fifth Street, NW, Washington DC, 20549-0213. For general questions, call 202-942-7040.) For general information: www.sec.gov.

What do I do about stolen mail or fraudulent changes of address?
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is the law enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service and is responsible for investigating cases of identity theft. USPIS has primary jurisdiction in all matters infringing on the integrity of the U.S. mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail to get new credit cards, bank or credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers or tax information, has falsified change-of-address forms, or obtained your personal information through a fraud conducted by mail, report it to your local postal inspector. You can locate the USPIS district office nearest you by calling your local post office or checking the list at www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.

What do I do if my passport is lost or stolen?
If you've lost your passport or believe it was stolen, or is being used fraudulently, contact the United States Department of State (USDS) or call a local USDS field office. Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.

What do I do if the thief has obtained phone service in my name?
If an identity thief has established phone service in your name, is making unauthorized calls that seem to come from - and are billed to - your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card. Open new accounts and choose new PINs. If you're having trouble getting fraudulent phone charges removed from your account or getting an unauthorized account closed, contact the appropriate agency from the list below.

For local service, contact your state Public Utility Commission, listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.

For cellular phones and long distance, contact the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). The FCC regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television, wire, satellite and cable. You can contact the FCC's Consumer Information Bureau to find out about information, forms, applications and current issues before the FCC. Call: 1-888-CALL-FCC; TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC; or write: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Information Bureau, 445 12th Street, SW, Room 5A863, Washington, DC 20554. You can file complaints via the online complaint form at www.fcc.gov/cgb/complaints.html, or e-mail questions to fccinfo@fcc.gov.

What do I do if the thief has used my identity to take out a student loan?
Contact the school or program that opened the student loan to close the loan. At the same time, report the fraudulent loan to the U.S. Department of Education.

Call: Inspector General's Hotline at 1-800-MIS-USED
Online: http://www.ed.gov/offices/OIG/hotline.htm

Write: Office of Inspector General
U.S. Department of Education
400 Maryland Avenue, SW
Washington, DC 20202-1510

What do I do if the thief is using my identity to file tax returns?
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (www.treas.gov/irs/ci) is responsible for administering and enforcing tax laws. If you believe someone has assumed your identity to file federal Income Tax Returns, or to commit other tax fraud, call toll-free: 1-800-829-0433. Victims of identity theft who are having trouble filing their returns should call the IRS Taxpayer Advocates Office, toll-free: 1-877-777-4778.

When should I contact the Social Security Administration?
The Social Security Administration's Office of the Inspector General investigates cases that involve the use of your SSN to fraudulently obtain Social Security benefits. They also investigate cases that involve the use of counterfeit SSN cards, the manufacturing or selling of counterfeit SSN cards, the selling of legitimate SSN cards or information, or the misuse of SSNs linked to terrorist groups or activities. Report any of these allegations to the SSA Fraud Hotline. Call: 1-800- 269-0271; fax: 410-597-0118; write: SSA Fraud Hotline, P.O. Box 17768, Baltimore, MD 21235; or e-mail: oig.hotline@ssa.gov.

You also can call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported on your SSN, and to request a copy of your Social Security Statement or to get a replacement SSN card if yours is lost or stolen. Follow up in writing.

Should I apply for a new Social Security number?
Under certain circumstances, the Social Security Administration may issue you a new SSN - at your request - if, after trying to resolve the problems brought on by identity theft, you continue to experience problems. Consider this option carefully. A new SSN may not resolve your identity theft problems, and may actually create new problems. For example, a new SSN does not necessarily ensure a new credit record because credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old SSN with those from your new SSN. Even when the old credit information is not associated with your new SSN, the absence of any credit history under your new SSN may make it more difficult for you to get credit. And finally, there's no guarantee that a new SSN wouldn't also be misused by an identity thief.

Should I use a credit monitoring service?
A variety of commercial services are available, for a fee, that will monitor your credit reports for activity and alert you to changes; prices and services vary widely. Many of the services only monitor one of the three major credit bureaus. As with any product or service, make sure you understand what you're getting before you buy. Also, check out any company you're not familiar with before doing business with them. Contact your local consumer protection agency or the Better Business Bureau to find out if they have any complaints on file.

Should I buy identity theft insurance?
Some companies offer insurance or similar products that claim to give you protection against the costs associated with resolving an identity theft case. As with any product or service, make sure you understand what you're getting before you buy. Be aware that most creditors will only deal with you to resolve problems, so the insurance company in most cases will not be able to reduce that burden. Contact your local consumer protection agency or the Better Business Bureau to find out if they have any complaints on file.

Can a credit repair company clear up my record for me?
Claims by companies that they can clear up your credit record are often misleading or false. Identity theft victims, in particular, need to clear up debts with the original creditor. Most companies won't deal with a third party.

What should I do if I've done everything you've advised, and I am still having problems?
There are cases where victims do everything right and still spend years dealing with problems related to identity theft. The good news is that most victims can get their cases resolved by being vigilant, assertive and organized. Don't procrastinate on contacting companies to address the problems. Don't be afraid to go up the chain of command or make complaints, if necessary.









 

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