The federal government (www.identitytheft.gov) is the first step when you are the victim of identity theft.
The primary purpose is to file a report with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) called an Identity Theft Report.
This is your most important document to use when contacting companies and creditors to fix your identity. It is your proof that a crime took place. Otherwise, they may not listen, cooperate, or even acknowledge the crime.
It may also be necessary to file a local police report. The police will need the FTC report along with proof of theft (i.e. credit card statements).
With your FTC Identity Theft Report, you can send letters for:
- Explanation of unknown charges on bills
- Fix mistakes with credit reporting bureaus
- Close accounts that other people opened
- Stop debt collectors
- Dispute credit card charges (also ATM and debit cards)
Signs that you are the victim of identity theft:
- Unexplained withdrawals or credit card purchases
- The IRS informs you that your SSN was used to obtain a refund or get a job
- Missing mail or bills
- Start receiving medical or utility bills not your own
- Debt collectors are looking for you
- Your credit report (Experian, TransUnion and/or Equifax) shows accounts that are not yours
It is very important to take immediate steps when you notice unusual activity because there are limits of financial loss.
- In most states, you are not responsible for new fraudulent accounts.
- Under federal law, you are liable for a maximum of $50 when your credit card is used.
- You are not liable for somebody using your credit card only if you report it as stolen before actually being used.
- For ATM or debit cards, you are not liable if you report the card stolen before it is used. Otherwise, the maximum is $50 is you take prompt steps, such as noticing charges on your statement. Liability could be unlimited if you wait more than 60 days.
The types of data that could be stolen to use your identity are:
- Names and addresses
- Credit card and bank account numbers
- Social Security Number
- Phone or utility numbers
- Medical insurance numbers
- Driver license number
Steps Required to Fix Your Identity
If you have been informed of a data breach, lost your wallet, find fraudulent charges, or notice your online accounts have been hacked, there are a series of steps to take.
- Obtain credit reports
- Credit monitoring
- Credit freeze or fraud alert
- File income taxes early to prevent somebody impersonating you
- Change account login information
- Change account numbers or close the accounts entirely
- Flag your driver license number with the DMV
- Check the Social Security Administration if your SSN was used for employment
- Replace stolen IDs (i.e. SSN and Driver license)
- Write to debt collectors
If an account was opened in your name (i.e. credit card) that company must be contacted to close the account. You need a letter from that company confirming it was closed, that is was opened fraudulently, and that you are not liable for that account. This is important to remove the account from your credit report.
If fraudulent information is listed on your credit report, the FTC report requires that the credit bureaus block that information and stop debt collection. Without the FTC report, the credit bureaus could refuse to assist you and continue listing the fraudulent data.
When writing to companies, request a copy of the application used to open the account.
It is possible for criminals to use your identity when being arrested by law enforcement. That arrest will appear on your record and you will summoned to appear in court to face charges.
- Contact the arresting agency and give your fingerprints, photos, and ID documents to prove you are not the person they originally arrested.
- Obtain a "certificate of release" from the police. If a criminal was convicted using your identity, you will need to do the same with the prosecutors office.
- Request who the police sell data of arrest records in order to inform those third-parties to remove your name and identity.
The National Consumer Telecom and Utilities Exchange provides a data report that lists all telecom, pay TV, and utility accounts (if reported) that may have been opened with your identity.
If government benefits were stolen, contact that agency.
If checks are being used, contact the bank to close your account and stop payments. You also need to contact the companies trying to cash the checks to stop debt collection.
If a student loan was opened with your identity, you need a letter from that company stating you are not responsible for the balance.
If a criminal rented an apartment in your name, contact the landlord about which tenant history services they use to fix the fraud.
You can also seek your own "tenant history report" from third-party companies to see if your identity is linked to any evictions or late payments.
Contact an account manager or broker if investment accounts were opened.
It's possible that bankruptcy proceedings were started in your name, in which case you must contact the federal trustee who is overseeing your case.
If your SSN was used to get a refund, the IRS needs to be contacted. It's also possible that the IRS will inform you that you received income from an employer you don't work for.
You should obtain copies of your medical reports. If somebody is using your identity for medical services, you need to contact each doctor, clinic, and pharmacy that was used. They may refuse to cooperate with you claiming invasion of privacy (to the criminal), which requires additional steps to appeal their refusal. This may require assistance from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.
If your medical report contains health information of other people, you need to contact your own medical providers with certified mail (return receipt).
It's also important to contact your health insurers.
Identity Theft Investigations
As an example, assume your credit card was used to make purchases on Amazon. Your credit card statement only has limited information, such as a date and purchase amount. It could be very difficult tracking down the person responsible, even if everybody cooperates with your requests for information.
- Contact Amazon for information about the transaction, such as shipping address and email.
- Try obtaining information about that email address and/or IP address, both of which could be registered in fake names in another country.
- Contact the property owner of shipping address used. Even if you are able to identity where the package was shipped, the criminal may have used an address that was easy to steal packages from the front door. The property owner may also be a victim because his/her building was being used for package deliveries. The criminal could have been waiting outside for the package to be dropped off.
- Even if you track the person down, you will have to file a lawsuit to recover damages. It's possible that you can win the lawsuit but never collect from the criminal.
- Lawsuits require that the defendant be served with notice of the litigation. It's unlikely he/she will cooperate with the court.
- The criminal may be from another country or hiding in another state.