If you fear that your identity has been stolen, or if you fear there is a chance that it may have been stolen, it is vital that you know what to do. You may, for instance, have accidentally shared personal information online or lost your wallet, or maybe your home has been burglarized. The following 11 steps are essential:

1. Create a log.

Every time you send a letter or make a telephone call, you need to keep notes. Write down who you spoke to, what the responses were, when you sent a letter out, and to which address you sent them and what telephone numbers you called. Do also keep a note of any expenses, from printer cartridges to postage stamps and from cellphone credit to having to take time off work. Theft related expenses can be deducted from your income tax, so long as you itemize deductions. Additionally, if the thief is ever caught, you can be compensated for all expenses.

2. Contact the three credit bureaus.

All of them have helplines as well as extensive websites. You must ask them to immediately place a fraud alert on your credit report, and attach a statement to it. The three bureaus are:

Do also request a copy of your current credit file. Once you receive it, search for a number of red flags. You may spot unknown accounts, inquiries into your credit that you didn’t ask for, delinquencies or defaults that you didn’t cause, and more. Make sure that the identifying information on your credit file is also fully accurate.

A number of different alerts can be placed on your credit report by the bureaus. However, you will need to prove your identity in order to have this alert placed on your file. In most cases, your Social Security Number will be the identifying information the bureaus require. The possible alerts are:

  • Initial alert, which you should request straight away if you believe there is a chance that you have fallen victim to an identity thief. Once this alert is on your file, it will remain there for 90 days. It means that it is not possible for extra cards to be authorized on any existing accounts, nor can you apply for new credit. The only exception is that you could extend the existing credit on your credit card. If this alert is placed on your account, it may make it more difficult for you to get credit as well. However since you will also automatically receive your free copy of your credit report, it is certainly worth it.
  • Extended alert, which is needed if you know you have been the victim of identity theft. To have this alert placed on your credit file, you will need to send the credit bureau a copy of your identity theft report with a formal request for an extended alert. An identity theft report is a file of documents that include your statement to your local, state or federal law enforcement agencies, as well as any supporting information as requested by the credit bureau. The extended alert is basically the same as the initial one, but it will remain on your file for seven years. Additionally, it allows you two free copies of your credit report in the first 12 month period, instead of just one. Furthermore, when an extended alert is placed on your file, you will be excluded from ‘prescreened offers’ for five years, which means you will not be contacted by insurers and creditors who want to offer you unsolicited insurance or credit.
  • Active duty alert, which is suitable for people who are on active military duty. It does the same thing as the other alerts, but is there for just 12 months. The prescreened list exclusion is two years. With an active duty alert, you will not receive a free copy of your credit report.

When an alert is in place, a creditor must take additional steps in order to verify the identity of someone who requests credit before they can agree to provide it. If there is an extended alert in place, a telephone number can be included that any credit provider must telephone in order to officially confirm that the credit request is genuine and not from an identity thief.

3. Look at all your credit reports.

As soon as you receive the reports from each of the three bureaus, you must go through them carefully. Check all of your personal information for accuracy, which includes your Social Security Number, address, name and date of birth. Do also check to make sure there have not been any fraudulent inquiries or accounts. Look specifically for any account that you do not remember opening, or for an inquiry that was not started with you. Also search for delinquencies and defaults that you were not aware of. If you spot any of these things, you must report it straight away to the appropriate credit bureau. Remember to log this as well.

4. Speak to the police.

You must file a crime report with your local law enforcement agency. Give them all the evidence you have been able to collect and make sure that the police report lists each of the accounts that you know or believe to have been accessed fraudulently. Make sure that you get a full copy of the police report, as your creditors are likely to want to see a copy of this. Remember to note down all the details in your log report – this is also something that your creditors may want to see.

5. Complete an Identity Theft Victim’s Complaint and Affidavit.

This is a form that the Federal Trade Commission as made available on their ID theft web page. The affidavit is sometimes accepted as sufficient by creditors if you want to claim that you do not hold responsibility for an account that has recently been opened, or for transactions that have been made on existing accounts. By providing this information, you will give creditors the opportunity to investigate what is going on, although they will also often require a copy of your police report. If you want to look at copies of the applications that have been made (see next point), then you will also need this affidavit.

6. Close all accounts that you believe have been or could have been accessed through fraud.

Speak to every credit provider, which includes your credit card companies, your banks, your telephone and insurance providers and more, that could be affected by these fraudulent act. Ask that they report any closed accounts as being ‘closed at consumer’s request’. This is to protect your credit rating, as losing a card or having it stolen sometimes reflects poorly on your report.

You then need to ask for a copy of the applications and transactions made by the identity thief. This copy must be requested by each of the services that you believe have had dealings with the thief. You must write a properly completed written request for this, and it should then be provided to you free of charge. Additionally, your creditors must provide copies of these reports to law enforcement agencies that have been specified by you. Naturally, you will have to prove your own identity and submit your police report and the affidavit discussed in point 5. The individual businesses will tell you which address to send the request to.

You must also immediately change all your PIN numbers. If you have had your card replaced after it was stolen, change your PIN number. Change all your other passwords as well, and make sure that they are not easy to guess.

7. Do not allow for any further checks to be paid.

If a bank account was opened in your name, or your checks have been stolen, you must contact the various check verification companies in order to make sure that they know the activity is fraudulent. This will stop them from paying stolen checks.

8. Deal properly with any debt collectors.

Debt collectors may be trying to get you to pay any accounts that were opened by an identity thief. You must tell the debt collectors both over the phone and in writing that you did not open these accounts and that you are an identity theft victim. Log all this as well. Make sure you include all evidence such as your affidavit and police report, that shows you are currently investigating identity theft and are therefore not responsible for unpaid bills.

This information must be passed on to the creditor by the debt collector. The debt collector must also give you information that states the amount of debt and who the creditor is. As soon as you receive this, which is the ‘validation’, you need to officially dispute the information in writing. Attach a copy of the police report and the affidavit and send a copy of this information to the creditor as well.

Next, ask the debt collector to give you all the information that they have on this file, including things such as your phone number, your name, your account number and your address, as well as any other information that relates to the creditor and the debt collector. You also need to request that you receive a written confirmation from the debt collector that you are not responsible for the debt that is outstanding and that no further collection efforts will be made.

Normally, you should not have to pay any debt that was incurred by identity thieves, as you will have a complete defense. The information that you give to the debt collector and to the credit will be sufficient to stop further collection efforts. If, however, they are persistent, you may need to contact an attorney. If you receive a notification that legal action will be taken on any of these debts, you also need to speak to an attorney.

9. Speak to your local postal inspector.

It is possible that an identity thief tried to change your address through the post office, or that mail fraud has been committed against you. If you find out that your mail is indeed being sent to a different address, you need to have all mail sent back to your own address again, which the local postmaster can arrange for you.

10. Speak to the Social Security Administration (SSA)

Speak to the SSA if you believe that someone is using your Social Security Number in order to obtain benefits or welfare. There should be an SSA office near you, or you can contact the relevant authorities as below. If the case is very extreme, there may be a way to have your Social Security Number changed, but this is incredibly difficult and does not always solve the issue.

11. Speak to the U.S. State Department.

Speak to the State department particularly if you believe that someone is trying to obtain a passport using your name. If your passport has been stolen, you must also contact this agency.

12. Speak to the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Speak to the DMV in your state if you believe somebody may be using your driver’s license number in order to commit fraud, or if your driver’s license was stolen. It is generally possible to have a fraud alert placed on your driver’s license so that it can no longer be used for fraud. Make sure you request a new driver’s license number and complete the appropriate complaint form from the DMV.

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