Sometimes an identity thief can strike even if you’ve been very careful about keeping your personal information to yourself. If you suspect that your personal information has been hijacked and misappropriated to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately, and keep a record of your conversations and correspondence. You may want to use the attached form [PDF only]. Exactly which steps you should take to protect yourself depends on your circumstances and how your identity has been misused. However, three basic actions are appropriatein almost every case.
Your First Three Steps
First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus.
Tell them that you’re an identity theft victim. Request that a “fraud alert” be placed in your file, as well as a victim’s statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name.
At the same time, order copies of your credit reports from the credit bureaus. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, and you request it in writing. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. Also, check the section of your report that lists “inquiries.” Where “inquiries” appear from the company(ies) that opened the fraudulent account(s), request that these “inquiries” be removed from your report. (See “Credit Reports” for more information.) In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
Second, contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Creditors can include credit card companies, phone companies and other utilities, and banks and other lenders. Ask to speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each creditor, and follow up with a letter. It’s particularly important to notify credit card companies in writing because that’s the consumer protection procedure the law spells out for resolving errors on credit card billing statements. Immediately close accounts that have been tampered with and open new ones with new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Here again, avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.
Third, file a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime. Even if the police can’t catch the identity thief in your case, having a copy of the police report can help you when dealing with creditors.
Your Next Steps
Although there’s no question that identity thieves can wreak havoc on your personal finances, thereare some things you can do to take control of the situation. For example:
- Stolen mail. If an identity thief has stolen your mail to get new credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-screened credit offers or tax information, or if an identity thief has falsified change-of-address forms, that’s a crime. Report it to your local postal inspector. Contact your local post office for the phone number for the nearest postal inspection service office or check the Postal Service web site at www.usps.gov/websites/depart/inspect.
- Change of address on credit card accounts. If you discover that an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing credit card account, close the account. When you open a new account, ask that a password be used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. Avoid using the same information and numbers when you create a PIN.
- Bank accounts. If you have reason to believe that an identity thief has tampered with your bank accounts, checks or ATM card, close the accounts immediately. When you open new accounts, insist on password-only access to minimize the chance that an identity thief can violate the accounts.
In addition, if your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment. Also contact the major check verification companies to request that they notify retailers using their databases not to accept these checks, or ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business.
National Check Fraud Service: 1-843-571-2143
TeleCheck: 1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188
Equifax Check Systems: 1-800-437-5120
International Check Services: 1-800-526-5380
If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card as soon as you can and get another with a new PIN.
- Investments. If you believe that an identity thief has tampered with your securities investments or a brokerage account, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the Securities and Exchange Commission.
- Phone service. If an identity thief has established new phone service in your name; is making unauthorized calls that seem to come from – and are billed to – your cellular phone; or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card. Open new accounts and choose new PINs.
If you are having trouble getting fraudulent phone charges removed from your account, contact your state Public Utility Commission for local service providers or the Federal Communications Commission for long-distance service providers and cellular providers at www.fcc.gov/ccb/enforce/complaints.html or 1-888-CALL-FCC.
- Employment. If you believe someone is using your SSN to apply for a job or to work, that’s a crime. Report it to the SSA’s Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271. Also call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported on your SSN, and to request a copy of your Social Security Statement. Follow up your calls in writing.
- Driver’s license. If you suspect that your name or SSN is being used by an identity thief to get a driver’s license or a non-driver’s ID card, contact your Department of Motor Vehicles. If your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number.
- Bankruptcy. If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy using your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the Region where the bankruptcy was filed. A listing of the U.S. Trustee Program’s Regions can be found at www.usdoj.gov/ust, or look in the Blue Pages of your phone book under U.S. Government – Bankruptcy Administration.
Your letter should describe the situation and provide proof of your identity. The U.S. Trustee, if appropriate, will make a referral to criminal law enforcement authorities if you provide appropriate documentation to substantiate your claim. You also may want to file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney and/or the FBI in the city where the bankruptcy was filed.
- Criminal records/arrests. In rare instances, an identity thief may create a criminal record under your name. For example, your imposter may give your name when being arrested. If this happens to you, you may need to hire an attorney to help resolve the problem. The procedures for clearing your name vary by jurisdiction.
SHOULD I APPLY FOR A NEW SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER? Under certain circumstances, SSA may issue you a new SSN – at your request – if, after trying to resolve the problems brought on by identity theft, you continue to experience problems. Consider this option carefully. A new SSN may not resolve your identity theft problems, and may actually create new problems. For example, a new SSN does not necessarily ensure a new credit record because credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old SSN with those from your new SSN. Even when the old credit information is not associated with your new SSN, the absence of any credit history under your new SSN may make it more difficult for you to get credit. And finally, there’s no guarantee that a new SSN wouldn’t also be misused by an identity thief.