If you are a victim of identity theft, understand that minimizing damage will take patience and a systematic approach. However, the sooner and more aggressively you deal with the problem, the faster you will see results.
To start, commit yourself to becoming and remaining organized. Since you will be communicating with a lot of people and have many tasks to complete, use the Identity Theft Action Log (PDF) to keep track. Keep copies of all letters, file paperwork promptly, and store everything in a safe and accessible place.
Creditors and Financial Institutions
- If accounts have been used or opened illegally, contact your creditors immediately. Ask for fraudulent transaction documentation. You may use a uniform affidavit form, available on the Federal Trade Commission’s website (Resources), as you may need it to file a police report. Add “non-guessable” passwords
- If a collection agency attempts to collect on a fraudulent account, explain (in writing) that you are a victim of identity theft and not responsible for the debt. Ask that they confirm in writing that you do not owe the balance and that the account has been closed.
- For checking account fraud, contact your financial institution to cancel your debit card and place stop payments on any outstanding checks that you did not write. Report the crime to check reporting agencies (Resources). Close current checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers and passwords. Monitor all future account statements carefully for evidence of new fraud.
Legal and Government Agencies
- Report the crime and file a police report. Request a copy of the report and keep the phone number of your investigator handy. For additional documentation, you may also report the crime to the Federal Trade Commission.
- If your mail was stolen or your address was used fraudulently, contact the U.S. Postal Inspection Service (Resources).
Credit Reporting Bureaus
- It is very important that your credit report lists only factual information. To know what is being reported, you will need to obtain a credit report from each of the three major credit bureaus. If you are married, your spouse should also check his or her report.
- Even if the fraudulent information hasn’t yet appeared on your reports, be proactive and report the crime now. Call any one of the three credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you contact will notify the other two, who will then place alerts on their reports as well. If you have proof that identity theft has occurred and you have filed a police report, you may request that the fraud alert be placed for seven years instead of the initial time frame of 90 -180 days. While fraud alerts are in effect, no new credit should be granted without your explicit approval.
- If you feel like a fraud alert will not provide you with enough protection, you can place a security freeze on your credit report. When a freeze is placed on your report, no creditor or other business that does not have a pre-existing relationship with you can access your report.
- You may also write a victim’s report – a brief statement describing the details of the crime – and send it to all three bureaus to be added to your reports.
- The first reports with the fraud alert are free and will be sent to you automatically. Check your credit report for accuracy every three months for a year, then at least annually after that.