How to Respond to Identity Theft or Fraud - dummies

By Ryan C. Williams

If identity theft happens to you, act immediately! Having identity theft happen to you is a very scary thing, and can feel paralyzing. There are steps to take. Do not become paralyzed by fear! Act at once!

  • After you identify which accounts have been compromised, contact those providers immediately.

  • Contact the three major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion).

    • You can find contact information for these organizations here.

    • Tell each bureau that you’re the victim of identity theft and report your ID as stolen. Because you’re the victim of identity theft, the three bureaus will each give you a copy of your credit report for free.

    • Ask all three credit bureaus to flag your file with a fraud alert and add a victim’s statement to your file. This statement can be as simple as “Someone is using my ID to fraudulently apply for credit. Before new accounts can be opened, I must be contacted at <your phone number>.

    • Ask all three credit bureaus to tell you the names and phone numbers of all creditors with whom fraudulent accounts have been opened. Contact each of these creditors to report the identity theft.

    • Ask each credit bureau to clear your file of all inquiries that have been generated as a result of the fraudulent use of your information.

    • Be sure to request and check your credit reports every few months to watch for new incidents of fraud.

  • Report the identity theft to your local law enforcement agency. Insist on filing a written report.

  • Monitor all other financial records (incoming mail, phone bills, credit card bills, and bank statements, for example) for signs of other fraud.

For the most up-to-date information on how to protect yourself against identity theft or what to do if it happens to you, visit Privacy Rights Clearinghouse and Federal Trade Commission: Consumer Information.

You aren’t alone in the fight against identity theft. From the federal government and credit card companies to your local police, your allies abound and can help you with many aspects of identity theft. Here are some of your key sources of help:

  • The Federal Trade Commission (FTC): The FTC provides information useful for preventing identity theft and knowing what to do if you’re a victim. Its website is chock-full of statistics, information, forms, and more to help you understand and prevent identity theft as well as what to do if you’re a victim. When you file a complaint online, the report is forwarded to law enforcement as well.

  • The Social Security Administration (SSA): The SSA has guidelines for reporting fraud on its website. Also, you need to submit a fraud-reporting form to the SSA Office of Inspector General (OIG), an investigative branch. The SSA recommends downloading the form, completing it, and then sending it via fax or regular mail to ensure confidentiality.

    When you report the use of your SSN for identity theft, the SSA will not investigate the identity theft but will look into benefit fraud. The SSA will not issue a new SSN if you have been the victim of identity theft.

  • Most local law enforcement agencies: These agencies provide information on how to prevent identity theft and what to do if you become a victim.

  • Federal law enforcement agencies: The most active federal law enforcement agencies investigating ID theft are the U.S. Postal Inspection Service and the U.S. Secret Service.

  • Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3): The IC3 website is a partnership among the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C). At the website, you can file a complaint and read about recent scams and other news. The IC3 reports the complaints to the proper local authorities.

  • Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI): Go to the FBI’s website to find more information.

  • Financial institutions and credit card companies: Most financial institutions provide tips about preventing fraud and knowing what to do if you’re a victim. Some institutions provide discounts and links to sites that charge an annual membership fee for providing identity theft protection.

    To help stem the upward trend of credit card fraud, the card-issuing companies monitor and look for irregular patterns of use. The credit card companies monitor what you charge on a monthly basis, and when something varies from the typical pattern, the card company calls and asks whether you made the purchase.

    For example, when people go on vacation and don’t notify the card company, they’ll probably receive a call asking whether they made a purchase in X country or Y state. The card companies have used this method for many years, and it’s helped reduce some credit card fraud.

  • Experienced attorneys: Although the resources listed here are usually quite helpful, you may want to contact an attorney to help you restore your credit and name if creditors aren’t cooperative in removing fraudulent accounts from your credit report or charges from accounts.

    Contact the American Bar Association or Legal Aid office in your area and ask for the names of attorneys that specialize in the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), consumer law, and the Fair Credit Billing Act.

  • Your state’s Attorney General’s Office: Check the website for your state’s Attorney General’s Office, which has resources about identity theft prevention.