ID Theft: A Victim's Step-By-Step Recovery Guide
We recently reported on a story in which the identities of 3.3 million loan borrowers were hacked, including the names, addresses, social security numbers of these individuals. Now, figures from the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse suggest that more than 347 million records have been breached since 2005.
So, what happens if you aren't aware that your identity has been compromised?
The short answer is that someone will likely try to use your identity to commit fraud. For example, you might receive a bill for a credit card expense that you knew nothing about. It could ruin your credit score, or much worse.
Millions of people each year fall victim to identity theft. Many of them have no idea how to respond to it. If you become a victim, however, there are ways to protect yourself and make sure your identity stays safe without having to spend thousands of dollars recovering it.
Start by Creating an Identity Recovery Log
Start by creating a log to track phone calls you make, letters you send, and notes of conversations and/or correspondence with financial institutions and authorities, including dates, names and phone numbers.
Keep track of the time you spend and expenses incurred while dealing with your identity theft in case you can deduct theft-related expenses on your taxes or recover the expenses in the event the thief is ever found. You may even be able to sue the thief to recoup lost expenses.
Put a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Reports
There are two types of fraud alerts: initial alerts and extended alerts. Initial alerts stay on your credit report for at least 90 days. Extended alerts stay on your credit report for seven years.
Initial alerts are more appropriate for when you lose your wallet or fall victim to a phishing scam. Extended alerts are more appropriate for when you become a victim of identity theft and have filled out and filed an identity theft report with local, state, or federal law enforcement agencies.
Placing a fraud alert on your credit report helps prevent any more accounts being opened in your name by an identity thief.
Alert Credit Report Agencies
The three major credit companies are listed below. You only need to notify one of them since the company you notify is required to notify the others to place an alert of their versions of your credit report.
- TransUnion: Phone: 1-800-680-7289. Address: Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834
- Equifax: Phone: 1-800-525-6285. Address: P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
- Experian: Phone: 1-888-397-3742. Address: P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
When you place a fraud alert on your credit report, you're entitled to free copies of them if requestedt. Make sure you review them carefully. Comprehensive information on recovering from identity theft can be found at the Federal Trade Commission's website.
Close Fraudulently Opened Accounts
Call to speak with someone in the security or fraud divisions of each company, then follow up in writing, including copies of supporting documentation. Notifying credit card companies and banks in writing is important. Written correspondence should be sent by certified mail with a return receipt request to help you keep track of dates and times.
Resolve Disputes with Creditors
When you resolve your dispute with a credit card company or bank, ask for a letter stating that the account in question has been closed or the fraudulent charges have been discharged. Letters of resolution can be useful if errors relating to the fraud reappear on your credit report.
File a Report with Local or State Police
File a report with your local police or the police where the fraud took place to send to creditors as proof that a crime took place. If the police are hesitant to take your report, ask to file a 'Miscellaneous Incidents' report or try filing a report with your state police.
You can check for a list of state Attorney Generals to find out if your state law requires the police to take reports of identity theft.
File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission
Filing an identity theft complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) can help provide information to law enforcement agencies across the nation to track down identity thieves. You can file a complaint with the FTC through their website, by calling 1-877-438-4338, or by mail at Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Ave, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
More tips on staying alert and taking control of your identity can be found from the FTC, the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and the Spyware Help Links page of Bill's Links and More. Having your identity stolen can be traumatic and expensive, but taking it back and getting a handle on it doesn't have to be so painful.
Visit Bill's Links and More for more great tips, just like this one!