Victims of Identity Theft: What to Do if Your Identity is Stolen

Identity theft can be one of the most devastating crimes to fall victim of. Depending on the type of identity theft committed, victims can incur massive debt, bad credit, and even criminal records. Although everyone should be taking steps to prevent this crime from happening to them, it's still possible to fall victim. So if you detect signs of your identity being stolen, what's the next step?

Contact The Credit Bureaus

First off, you need to contact one of the three major international credit reporting agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. If you are from a country other than the U.S., you may have additional credit bureaus you can report to. Ask them to put a "fraud alert" on your credit file and include a victim's statement asking all creditors to call you before changing any of your accounts or opening new ones. This will stop the identity thief from doing any more damage because any actions taken with your credit must be confirmed by you by phone. Be aware that fraud alerts and victim's statements expire. Ask the credit bureaus about their fraud alert renewal policies.

Once the fraud alert is confirmed by one of the bureaus, the other two will be notified. They will all send copies of your credit report to you free of charge. If you do not receive one, make sure to follow up. Review the reports carefully to pinpoint unauthorized changes to your accounts, accounts you didn't open, and inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, and debts that aren't yours. Report discrepancies to the credit bureau and ask them to remove all information connected with the identity theft.

Other Agencies

If you have detected fraudulent activity in your bank accounts, stolen cheques, or fraudulent bank accounts in your name, ask your bank to report the fraudulent activity to ChexSystems, a consumer-reporting agency that compiles reports on checking accounts. You will also need to contact them directly to put a security alert on your file and obtain free copies of your reports.

If you suspect identity theft through the mail or you think an identity thief has redirected your mail, contact the Postal Inspection Agency for your country. Similarly, if you suspect someone else has access to your social security number, contact the issuing agency. If you believe the imposter has committed tax fraud involving your name, contact the revenue agency. Finally, if you believe someone else is in possession of your driver's license number, contact the issuing agency.

Close Your Accounts

Contact all companies with whom you have accounts that have been tampered with or established fraudulently. This includes credit card companies, utilities companies, telephone companies, insurance companies, and banks, etc. In addition to canceling tampered with and fraudulent accounts, you may also need to place stop-payment orders on cheques, change PIN numbers and passwords, or obtain new convenience card or ATM card numbers.

To close your accounts and dispute fraudulent charges creditors and other companies will require you to fill out their fraud paperwork, and you may also be required to complete a fraud or ID theft affidavit (normally the FTC fraud affidavit). Also ask for copies of the documentation surrounding fraudulent accounts, such as the fraudulent application and transaction records. This will aid the investigation into finding the imposter and it could also show you what information on you the imposter has. When an account has been closed, make sure to get a letter from the company stating that they have closed the disputed account and has discharged you of any debts. This may come in handy later when amending your credit report.

Remember; under any circumstances do not pay any bill or portion of a bill that is a result of fraud and don't cover any checks that were written or cashed fraudulently. Do not file for bankruptcy - your credit rating should not be permanently affected and no legal action should be taken against you. Report the attempts of any merchant, financial organization or collection agency to have you do these things to government regulators immediately. You are not required to cover any sort of debt that is a result of identity theft.

File Reports

File a police report with your local police or the police in the area where the identity theft occurred. Get a copy of the police report to give to creditors, banks, etc., - any company that you have a corrupted account with.

When you file your report, be persistent. The local authorities may tell you they can't take your report, but stress the importance of a police report. Many credit companies and banks require a police report to handle fraudulent debt disputes. If you're told that identity theft isn't a crime under your jurisdiction, file a Miscellaneous Incident Report instead.

When you file your police report, provide as much documentation as you can. This may include copies of debt collection letters, your notarized Identity Theft Affidavit, and other evidence of fraudulent activity. Never ever give out originals of these documents, but make sure to make copies.

You may also want to ask the police department to search the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)'s Computer Sentinel database for other victims in your area. If they can find a pattern of identity theft, the police might take your case more seriously. This is only one good reason why you should also file an identity theft report with the FTC - so that through recognizing theft patterns, the perpetrators of the theft are more likely to be caught. If you live outside the United States, you should report the crime to your country's federal trade and consumer affairs departments or your country's information and privacy commissioner.

Make sure to keep yourself organized by filling out checklists and work sheets to document your progress. Keep track of everyone you contact, when, and what transpired. Keep all this information in one place. That way it will be easier to refer back to later.

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