In 2012, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released its most up to date report on consumer complaints. And it was found that, for the 13th year in a row, identity theft was the top complaint.
“2012 marks the first year in which the FTC received more than 2 million complaints overall, and 369,132, or 18 percent, were related to identity theft.”
It is believed that around 13 million people each year become victims of identity theft in this country alone. There are many different types of identity theft, including false applications for new credit, credit card fraud, fraudulent use of telephone calling cards, fraudulent withdrawals from a bank account, fraudulent use of medical care, fraudulent use of IP addresses, and Social Security fraud. Each of these has significant financial consequences for the victim.
If you have reason to believe that you have been victimized by identity theft, there are a number of things that you must do straight away to avoid the problem from escalating and to minimize the damage.
1. Ask for Your Credit Reports to List a Fraud Alert
There are three main credit bureaus (Experian, Equifax and TransUnion) that can put a fraud alert on your file. This means that lenders are aware that there are concerns, and they will request more information to confirm identity before extending credit. You only have to contact one of the three agencies to have the alert placed, and it will appear on all your reports.
“If you are, or suspect you may be, a victim of fraud or identity theft, place a Fraud Alert on your credit report to alert potential creditors or lenders.”
You can also place a security freeze on your report. This stops any new creditors from accessing your credit report and any applications for credit will automatically be declined. If you then want to apply for credit, you need to temporarily ‘thaw’ your file so that an application can be processed. You do have to contact each of the three agencies individually for this.
If you decide to place a fraud alert on your file, you are entitled to received a free copy of your report. Make sure you do this, as it will allow you to see whether there are already some fraudulent items on there. This will allow you to start a dispute process. If you view your file online, you can usually start this process online as well. The fraud alert, which is free, stays in place for 90 days. If you want to extend it, you may have to pay a small fee, unless you can demonstrate that you have indeed been an identity theft victim.
2. Contact Each of the Creditors that Are Affected
If, for instance, your checkbook is stolen, you must immediately contact your bank to inform them of this. Be proactive in your actions and have a list at home of all the institutions you have credit with, including the telephone number to call if there is a problem. Do not list your account numbers, however, as someone could steal your list and commit identity fraud through it.
3. Speak to the FTC
By contacting the FTC through their toll free numbers, you can file an Identity Theft Report and an Identity Theft Affidavit. When you speak to them, they will also give you information on the next steps you should take. This can vary depending on the type of fraud that was, or may have been, committed.
4. File a Police Report
If you want to complete the Identity Theft Report with the FTC, you must also speak to the police and tell them what happened. Make sure you obtain the report number and a copy of the report itself. Put together with the Identity Theft Affidavit from the FTC, you will then have an Identity Theft Report. You need these in order to work together with the companies in which an identity thief has opened up accounts in your name, as well as with the credit reporting agencies.
5. Protect Your Social Security Number
If you have reason to believe someone may have obtained your Social Security Number, you must immediately contact the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and the Social Security Administration (SSA). Do this even if you have no reason to believe financial fraud has been committed using your number. This is because the thief may use it at a later stage, gaining employment in your name or swiping your tax refund. However, the Social Security Administration cannot solve any identity theft problem for you.
“If someone has misused your Social Security number or other personal information to create credit or other problems for you, Social Security cannot resolve these problems. But there are several things you should do.”
There are a few other things you could/should do depending on your personal situation. If you believe a fraudulent change-of-address has been submitted, for instance, you must contact the Postal Inspection Service. They have an online form that you can complete.
Remember, as well, that the above steps do not mean all your problems have been resolved. Unfortunately, identity theft is incredibly damaging and the process of resolving the issue can be complex and laborious. Do make sure, as well, that you check information available through the IdentityTheft.gov for more help.
“IdentityTheft.gov is the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site provides streamlined checklists and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process.”