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Identity Theft: What to Do if Your Identity Is Stolen

January 09, 2010

By Steve Greechie | Money Rates Columnist

Identity theft can take many forms--unauthorized use of credit card numbers, bank account numbers, Social Security number, or driver's license. Thieves can take your identity to tap your credit cards, open new credit card accounts, or to carry out other illegal activities.

If you think that you may have been the victim of identity theft, it's important to act quickly. Here's a step-by-step guide to responding to fraudulent credit activity in your name.

Step 1: Contact your creditors.

  • Close all credit accounts that may be affected by the theft. This would include major credit cards, charge cards, debit cards, and any other credit instrument.
  • If you open new accounts for credit cards, use different Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) or passcodes than you did previously.

Step 2: Fill out the Federal Trade Commission's ID Theft Complaint Form.

File an ID Theft Complaint Form with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). You can find the form on the FTC's Web site. A series of screens in the FTC Complaint Assistant will ask you for all the details of the problem. The FTC Complaint Assistant will ask which of the three situations apply to you:

  • Someone is using your accounts or personal information illegally.
  • Someone has attempted to use your accounts or personal information illegally.
  • Your personal information has been lost, stolen, or disclosed.

Whichever situation applies to you, you'll be asked for information about your credit card issuers and any erroneous billing that has resulted from the theft. You'll be asked which date the theft occurred and what information was stolen. If you don't have all the information on hand, don't worry. Answer as well as you can.

You'll also be asked if you've notified the police or credit card issuers. If you haven't done this yet, just answer "no." That's all right. After all, you'll be expected to use the FTC ID Theft Complaint Form to file an Identity Theft Report with the police.

Print out a copy of this form for your records and to help you file a police report. You'll receive a confirmation from the FTC.

You should also fill out an FTC ID Theft Affidavit, which is a less detailed form asking for the most of the information in the Theft Complaint Form. Credit companies you contact may require this.

Step 3: File a police report.

Always to file a police report and/or an Identity Theft Report with your local police. This report will officially document the crime. File the report as soon as you can. If you don't have all the details at the time you file, you can add material to the report later.

An Identity Theft Report is a police report with greater detail than most police reports. The police may use the police report as the Identity Theft Report and/or use the FTC Theft Complaint Form to get the details of the events.

  • In a police report, you must establish to time and place of the theft as close as possible. This can be difficult. Once you've realized that you've been the victim of a crime, you may have no idea when or where--or how--it happened, but answer to the best of your knowledge.
  • List all the creditors who may be concerned with the crime. It's important to list all the details of credit cards or other accounts, including your account number, the dollar amounts involved, and any dates related to transactions. You will have already given this info to the FTC.
  • Include the FTC Theft Complaint Form, which you'll already have printed out.
  • Collect any paperwork documenting the theft--receipts, bills, statements, etc. Include these with the report.
  • It's possible that identity theft isn't a specific crime in your state. If this is the case, file a Miscellaneous Incident Report. If the local authorities won't accept a report on identity theft, go to your state or county police.
  • Keep copies of all material you submit--all your documents, and the police report itself.

Step 4: Contact the credit reporting agencies for a fraud alert.

There are three credit reporting agencies (CRAs) in the US. They monitor individuals' credit, tracking your credit card history. Notify one of them and file the Identity Theft Report; that agency will contact the other two. Do this in writing. The best method is to send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt. As always, keep a copy of the document for your records.

The CRAs will put a "fraud alert" on your account. This will mean that, for at least 90 days, potential creditors will take precautions before issuing credit in your name. The agencies will also send you a copy of your credit report. This will include your credit score. Pay particular attention to whether this score has been affected by the crime.

When corresponding with the CRA, include the following information:

  1. Your full name, address, and birth date
  2. A copy of police report you've filed
  3. A copy of the FTC ID theft affidavit (the CRA may request that you notarize this)
  4. The account number for each credit account involved
  5. All documentation of the theft (you'll have already collected this material for the police report)
  6. Your signed statement that you are not responsible for the disputed transactions.

You may wish to request that each CRA put an extended fraud alert on your account, which would be active for seven years. This protection will mean that a potential creditor must notify you before responding to a credit request made in your name on credit cards or other accounts. Within the next year, the CRA will send you two free copies of your credit report (including your credit score).

The three credit reporting agencies, and their contact information, are:

Fraud Victim Assistance Department
PO Box 6790
Fullerton, CA 92634-6790

PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

PO Box 9532
Allen, TX 75013




Deter. Detect. Defend. • http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/instructions1.htm • Federal Trade Commission
Defend: Recover from Identity Theft •  http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/defend.html#Whatisanidentitytheftreport • Federal Trade Commission
Filing a Complaint with the FTC • http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/consumers/filing-a-report.html • Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Victims? Complaint and Affidavit • http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/resources/forms/affidavit.pdf • Federal Trade Commission
Pammila Allen • Protecting Your Credit Following ID Theft: A Step-by-Step Plan of Action • http://www.cardratings.com/idtheftcreditcardtips.html • CardRatings.com

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