What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen
"I don't remember
opening that credit card account. And I certainly didn't buy those
items I'm being billed for."
Maybe you never
opened that account, but someone else did...someone who used your name
and personal information to commit fraud. When an imposter co-opts
your name, your Social Security number (SSN), your credit card number,
or some other piece of your personal information for their use - in
short, when someone appropriates your personal information without
your knowledge - it's a crime, pure and simple.
The biggest problem? You may not know your identity's been stolen
until you notice that something's amiss: you may get bills for a
credit card account you never opened, your credit report may include
debts you never knew you had, a billing cycle may pass without your
receiving a statement, or you may see charges on your bills that you
didn't sign for, didn't authorize, and don't know anything about.
First Things First
If someone has stolen your identity, the Federal Trade Commission
(FTC) recommends that you take three actions immediately.
First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit
bureaus. Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert including a
statement that creditors should get your permission before opening any
new accounts in your name.
At the same time, ask the credit bureaus for copies of your credit
reports. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if it
is inaccurate because of fraud. Review your reports carefully to make
sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name
or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. In a few
months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections
and changes, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
report Report fraud Web site
Equifax 800-685-1111 800-525-6285
Experian 888-EXPERIAN (397-3742) 888-EXPERIAN
Trans Union 800-916-8800 800-680-7289
Second, contact the
creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened
fraudulently. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud
department, and follow up in writing. Following up with a letter is
one of the procedures spelled out in the Fair Credit Billing Act for
resolving errors on credit billing statements, including charges that
you have not made.
Third, file a report with your local police or the police in the
community where the identity theft took place. Keep a copy in case
your creditors need proof of the crime.
Next, Take Control
Although identity thieves can wreak havoc on your personal finances,
there are some things you can do to take control of the situation.
Here's how to handle some of the most common forms of identity theft.
If an identity thief has stolen your mail for access to new credit
cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers and
tax information or falsified change-of-address forms, (s)he has
committed a crime. Report it to your local postal inspector.
If you discover that an identity thief has changed the billing address
on an existing credit card account, close the account. When you open a
new account, ask that a password be used before any inquiries or
changes can be made on the 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. Avoid the same information and numbers when you
create a Personal Identification Number (PIN).
If you have reason to believe that an identity thief has accessed your
bank accounts, checking account or ATM card, close the accounts
immediately. When you open new accounts, insist on password-only
access. If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment. If
your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel
the card and get another with a new PIN.
If an identity thief has established new phone or wireless service in
your name and is making unauthorized calls that appear 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 calling card. Get new accounts and new PINs.
If it appears that someone is using your SSN when applying for a job,
get in touch with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify
the accuracy of your reported earnings and that your name is reported
correctly. Call (800) 772-1213 to check your Social Security
In addition, the SSA 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.
If you suspect that your name or SSN is being used by an identity
thief to get a driver's license, report it to your Department of Motor
Vehicles. Also, if your state uses your SSN as your driver's license
number, ask to substitute another number.
Taking the steps outlined here should, in most cases, resolve your
identity theft problems, but identity theft or related credit problems
may reoccur. Stay alert to new instances of identity theft. Notify the
company or creditor that's involved immediately. Follow up in writing.
Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit bureaus every
year to check on their accuracy and whether they include only those
debts and loans you've incurred. This could be very important if
you're considering a major purchase, such as a house or a car. A
credit bureau may charge you up to $9.00 for a copy of your report.
If you've been a victim of identity theft, file a complaint with the
FTC by contacting the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline by telephone:
toll-free 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502; by mail:
Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600
Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or online:
www.consumer.gov/idtheft. Ask for a copy of ID Theft: When Bad Things
Happen to Your Good Name, a free comprehensive consumer guide to help
you guard against and recover from identity theft.
For More Information
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop and
avoid them. To file a
complaint or to get free information
on consumer issues, visit
call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY: 1-866-653-4261. The
FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft and other fraud-related
Consumer Sentinel, a
secure, online database available to hundreds of civil and criminal law
enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad.
FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION
FOR THE CONSUMER
Chart Your Course of Action
Use this form to record the steps you’ve taken to report the
fraudulent use of your identity. Keep this list in a safe place for
Credit Bureaus - Report Fraud
Banks, Credit Card Issuers and Other Creditors (Contact each creditor
promptly to protect your legal rights.) Law Enforcement Authorities -
Report Identity Theft