Are you a victim of identity theft? Has someone used your name, social security number or credit card number to commit fraud? Has someone opened a telephone account in your name without paying the bills? Have they opened a loan account in your name without repaying? Have persons created counterfeit checks in your name? Has someone duplicated your ATM card and made electronic withdrawals in your name? Has someone used your name to get utility services for which they do not pay? Has someone filed a fraudulent tax return with the Government using your personal information? Has someone filed for bankruptcy in your name? Possibly you had been arrested for one or another of these crimes committed by an identity thief?
You are not alone. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) in the United States estimates that approximately 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.
Identity theft is thus a very serious matter, which needs to be corrected swiftly and decisively. You may have become aware of it after much damage had been done to your reputation. Maybe not much damage has been done yet. Whatever the case, you need to move speedily to ensure that this crisis doesn’t get worse, but ends. While some victims maybe able to resolve their problems quickly, others will have to spend huge sums of money and many days to repair the damage to their reputation. You may have to bear the consequences for a while. Possibly, you have difficulties being recommended for a job or you have been denied another loan due to negative credit reports.
Don’t worry too much. National and local support and assistance for identity theft victims is real and highly effective. Listed below are the most important and decisive actions that you should take to effectively end the crisis. Included are the organizations at the fore-front of the battle against identity theft with broad-based support for victims, chiefly the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/, of the United States:
File a Complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (for all types of identity theft).
You can file a complaint with the FTC using their online complaint form at https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov. You may call their Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free at: 1-877- 438-4338; or you may write to Identity Theft Clearing house, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.
By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, they are better able to assist in tracking and stopping identity thieves. The FTC refers victims’ complaint to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigates companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.
File a Police Report with the Local Police (all types of identity theft).
Call your local police department and file a report about your identity theft. A police report that provides specific details of the identity theft is known as an Identity Theft Report. This entitles you to certain legal rights when it is provided to the three major credit reporting agencies or to companies where the thief misused your information. An Identity Theft Report may be used to permanently block fraudulent information that results from identity theft, such as accounts or addresses, from appearing on your credit report. It also ensures that the debts are permanently cleared from your credit reports.
You may not need an Identity Theft Report if the thief made changes on an existing account and you have been able to work with the company to resolve the problem. You, however, need the Identity Theft Report, if the thief has opened new accounts in your name or where fraudulent charges have been reported to the consumer reporting agencies.
You should bring your printed Identity Theft Complaint with you to the police station where you filed your police report. The printed ID Theft Complaint gives detailed support to the local police report. The police report is also needed to get copies of the thief’s application, as well as transaction information from companies that dealt with the thief. To get this information, you must submit a request in writing, accompanied by the police report, to the address specified by the companies that the thief dealt with.
Place a Fraud Alert on your Credit Reports, and Review the Reports (eg, banking fraud, credit card fraud).
Fraud alerts help to prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. You should contact the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report. They are:
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289, www.transunion.com located in California.
Equifax: 1-800-525-6285, www.equifax.com located in Georgia.
Experian: 1-800-397-3742, www.experian.com located in Texas.
Once the fraud alert is on your file, you’re entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies. Once you get your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for discrepancies. Once you’ve found the fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed by following the steps in the following FTC link: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/resolving-specific-id-theft-problems.html#CorrectingFraudulentInformationinCreditReports.
Close the accounts that have been tampered with or opened Fraudulently. (eg. phone fraud, banking fraud, credit card fraud).
Speak with someone in the security or fraud department of the company that holds your account. Follow up in writing, and include copies of supporting documents. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you can record what the company received and when they received it.
Ask the company for a fraud dispute form to dispute any fraudulent changes on your account. If the form does not exist you may simply write a letter. The following FTC link gives additional detail about this process: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/resolving-specific-id-theft-problems.html#CorrectingFraudulentInformationinCreditReports. Once you have resolved your identity theft dispute with the company, ask for a letter confirming that the the disputed accounts have been closed and the fraudulent debts discharged. This letter will give substantial evidence, if errors relating to this account reappear on your credit report, or if you are contacted again about the fraudulent debt.
Write to the US Trustee (UST) in your Region (bankruptcy fraud).
If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy in your name, write to the US Trustee in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. A list of the US trustee Program Regional Offices is available on the UST website, www.usdoj.gov/ust, or alternatively in the Blue Pages of your phone book under US government Bankruptcy Administration.
In your letter describe the situation and provide proof of your identity. The US trustee will make a criminal referral to law enforcement authorities if you provide the appropriate documents to confirm your claim. You will however, need to hire an attorney to aid in convincing the bankruptcy court that the filing is fraudulent.
Contact your National Postal Inspection Service (mail theft).
The United States Postal inspection Service (USPIS) is the law enforcement arm of the US Postal Service, and investigates cases of identity theft. They have primarily responsible for matters relating to the integrity of US mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail, you should report it to your local postal inspector. You can locate the USPIS district office nearest you by calling your local post office, checking the Blue pages of your telephone directory, or visiting their website at: www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.
Contact the United States Department of State (USDS) – passport fraud.
If you suspect your passport is being used fraudulently, contact the USDS through their website, www.travel.state.gov/passport/passport_1738.html, or call a local USDS field office. Local field offices are listed in the Blue pages of your telephone directory.
Apart from the FTC there are other local State organizations which offer direct legal, counseling, advocacy and financial advice and support, during and after the crisis. They are:
Maryland Crime Victims Resource Center (MCVRC).
The MCVRC in the Sate of Maryland offers free assistance to victims of identity theft and financial fraud in areas such as self advocacy and attorney assistance. For further details visit their website at: http://www.mdcrimevictims.org, or call them at 1-877- 842-8461.
Stop Atlanta Fraud Empower (SAFE).
SAFE, http://www.atlantava.org/services.asp, is a public outreach campaign, which among other things assists victims of identity theft and bank fraud file complaints with the appropriate agencies. They also offer advocacy and assistance in correcting credit reports. They are supported by the Office for Victims of Crime, Office of Justice Programs, and US Department of Justice.
There are multiple channels of assistance to you, the victim. Act now to prevent an even bigger crisis.