An identity thief can strike even if you've been very careful with your personal information. If you suspect that your personal information has been stolen to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately and keep a record of your conversations and correspondence. Exactly which steps you should take to protect yourself depends on your circumstances and how your identity has been misused. However, four basic actions are appropriate in almost every case.
Step 1: Contact the major credit bureaus' fraud departments
The contact information for each bureau is listed in the important information section of this site. 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 the 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 if 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." If "inquiries" appear from the company(ies) that opened the fraudulent account(s), request that these "inquiries" be removed from your report. In a few months, you should order new copies of your credit reports to verify that your corrections and changes have been made, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred. Some agencies may charge a nominal fee for this service.
Step 2: Contact creditors
Creditors can include credit card companies, phone companies and other utilities, 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. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security Number, your phone number or a series of consecutive numbers.
Step 3: File a police report
Be sure to file a report with either your local police, or the police department in the community where the theft took place. Even if the police can't catch the identity thief, having a copy of the police report can help you when dealing with creditors. Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime.
Step 4: Contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC)
The FTC collects complaints about identity theft from consumers who have been victimized. Although the FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal charges, it can help victims of identity theft by providing information to assist them in resolving the financial and other problems that can result from this crime. The FTC also refers victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action.
If you've been a victim of identity theft, file a complaint with the FTC by contacting the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline
1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261
Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580