Identity theft is a growing concern and costs creditors and consumers hundreds of millions of dollars each year. Someone can use your name for years before you find out, and once you find out you face the lengthy and expensive task of reclaiming your good name. According to the FTC, the average consumer spends more than $1,000 to clean up the damage done by identity thieves. For many, the recovery process is painful and exhausting, but there are steps to make it less odious.
Contact the three major credit bureaus
Explain your situation and ask that they put a fraud alert in your file. The fraud alert is a statement that says fraudulent applications for credit may be made using your correct information. It also instructs that you be contacted before any new accounts are opened or existing ones changed.
At the same time, order copies of your credit report, which credit bureaus must give you free if your report is inaccurate because of fraud. The bureaus worked with the FTC to design an “ID Theft Affidavit” that they will send you or you can get by calling the FTC at 877-IDTHEFT or at its Website.
Next, check the primary section of the report, which contains information about open accounts or accounts opened in the past seven years. Make note of any unfamiliar accounts. Then check the inquiries section, which lists companies that are checking your report because they’ve received applications. Request that these inquiries be removed from your file and that any misinformation in the header be corrected.
Sadly, you might find a familiar address listed on your credit report. In 12% to 17% of identity theft cases, the victim knows the suspect, and of this group, 65% are estimated to be family members. Victims then face the hard choice of turning a family member over to the police, or trying to work things out—without outside intervention.
Contact creditors about fraudulent accounts
When a consumer calls Equifax to report identity theft, Equifax gives the phone number of the fraud desk at any creditor. They need to call them right away and dispute it. The FTC advises consumers to follow up with a letter—the procedure required by law—to resolve errors on credit card billing statements.
Close any suspicious accounts and open new ones using new passwords and PINs (personal identification numbers). Don’t use easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number, your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
Ask your creditors if they’ll accept the FTC affidavit and if they need a copy of your police report. Expect to put in a lot of effort to get things straightened out.
File a police report
Now you’re ready to call your local police or sheriff’s department to file a report. Ask them to give you the report number and a copy of the report, which you’ll need in order to get help from creditors.
Create an ID theft case file
The Identity Theft Resource Center created a fact sheet called “Organizing Your Identity Theft Case” to help victims become their own strongest advocates. This comprehensive how-to publication covers such areas as keeping good notes in an organized journal, setting up an organized file system, and keeping track of expenses incurred while working on your case.