Identity Theft Fraud Victims, Here’s Everything You Ever Need to Know to Fix the Mess

Table of Contents

If you are the victim of identity theft the last thing you want to worry about is what to do next. Thanks to the kind folks at the FTC here is a comprehensive guide on what to do if you discover you are a victim of identity theft.

This step-by-step guide will make it extremely easy for you to take action and begin to repair the situation quickly.

Sincerly,


You are not alone. I'm here to help. There is no need to suffer in silence. We can get through this. Tomorrow can be better than today. Don't give up.

Damon Day - Pro Debt Coach

Identity theft happens when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your permission.

It is a serious crime that can wreak havoc with your finances, credit history, and reputation – and it can take time, money, and patience to resolve. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC), the nation’s consumer protection agency, prepared this guide to help you repair the damage that identity theft can cause, and reduce the risk of identity theft happening to you.

If you suspect that someone has stolen your identity, acting quickly is the best way to limit the damage. Setting things straight involves some work. This guide has tips, worksheets, blank forms, and sample letters to guide you through the recovery process. It covers:

  • what identity theft victims must do immediately
  • what problems may crop up
  • how you can reduce your risk of identity theft

How do thieves get my information?

“I thought I kept my personal information to myself.”

You may have, but identity thieves are resourceful and use a variety of ways to get your information. They “dumpster dive” or rummage through your garbage, the trash of businesses, or public dumps. They may work – or pretend to work – for legitimate companies, medical offices, clinics, pharmacies, or government agencies, and take advantage of that role to convince you to reveal personal information. Some thieves pretend to represent an institution you trust, and try to trick you by email (phishing)or phone (pretexting) into revealing personal information.

What do identity thieves do with my information?

Once identity thieves have your personal information, they can drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new utility accounts, or get medical treatment on your health insurance. An identity thief might even file a tax return in your name and get your refund. In some extreme cases, a thief might even give your name to the police during an arrest.

In some cases victims of identity theft have even been attorneys. – Source

Some people have been posing as attorneys, when in fact they actually are not. Identity theft does not stop at your bank account alone.

How can I tell that someone has stolen my information?

  • you see unexplained withdrawals from your bank account
  • you don’t get your bills or other mail
  • merchants refuse your checks
  • debt collectors call you about debts that aren’t yours
  • you find unfamiliar accounts or charges on your credit report
  • medical providers bill you for services you didn’t use
  • your health plan rejects your legitimate medical claim because the records show you’ve reached your
    benefits limit
  • the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notifies you that a tax return was filed in your name, or that you have income from an employer you don’t work for
  • the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) notifies you a tax refund was already issued to you and you hadn’t even filed your taxes yet.
  • you get notice that your information was compromised by a data breach at a company where you do business or have an account
  • you are arrested for a crime someone else allegedly committed in your name

What should I do if my information is lost or stolen, but my accounts don’t show any problems?

If your wallet, Social Security card, or other personal, financial, or account information is lost or stolen, contact the credit reporting companies and place a fraud alert on your credit file.

Check your bank and other account statements for unusual activity. You may want to take additional steps, depending on what information was lost or stolen. For example, you can exercise your legal right to a free copy of your credit report.

If your information is lost in a data breach, the organization that lost your information will notify you and tell you about your rights. Generally, you may choose to:

  • place a fraud alert on your credit file
  • use a credit monitoring service to watch for unusual activity
  • exercise your right to a free copy of your credit report but keep in mind that a consolidated credit report is more comprehensive

You may have other rights under state law.

IMMEDIATE STEPS

This section explains the first steps to take if your identity is stolen:

  1. Place an Initial Fraud Alert
  2. Order Your Credit Reports
  3. Create an Identity Theft Report

MONITOR YOUR PROGRESS

As you get started, create a system to organize your papers and track deadlines.

Place an Initial Fraud Alert

Three nationwide credit reporting companies keep records of your credit history. If you think someone has misused your personal or financial information, call 1 of the companies and ask them to put an initial fraud alert on your credit report. You must provide proof of your identity. The company you call must tell the other companies about your alert.

An initial fraud alert can make it harder for an identity thief to open more accounts in your name. When you have an alert on your report, a business must verify your identity before it issues credit in your name, so it may try to contact you. Be sure the credit reporting companies have your current contact information so they can get in touch with you. The initial alert stays on your report for only 90 days. It allows you to order 1 free copy of your credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting companies.

HOW TO PLACE A FRAUD ALERT

Consider Requesting a Credit Freeze

You may want to contact the credit reporting companies to place a credit freeze on your credit file. A credit freeze means potential creditors cannot get your credit report. That makes it less likely an identity thief can open new accounts in your name. The cost to place and lift a freeze depends on state law. In many states, identity theft victims can place a freeze for free, but in others, victims must pay a fee, which is usually about $10. If you have a police report, you may be able to place or lift a freeze for free.

Putting a credit freeze on your credit file does not affect your credit score. If you place a credit freeze on your credit file, you can:

  • get a copy of your free annual credit report
  • open a new account, apply for a job, rent an apartment, buy insurance, refinance your mortgage, or do anything else that requires your credit report

If you want a business, lender, or employer to be able to review your credit report, you must ask the credit reporting company to lift the freeze. You can ask to lift the freeze temporarily or permanently. You may be charged a fee to lift the freeze.

HOW TO REQUEST A CREDIT FREEZE

Order Your Credit Reports

After you place an initial fraud alert, the credit reporting company will explain your rights and how you can get a copy of your credit report. Placing an initial fraud alert entitles you to a free credit report from each of the 3 credit reporting companies.

HOW TO ORDER YOUR FREE CREDIT REPORTS

Contact Businesses

If you know which of your accounts have been tampered with, contact the related businesses. Talk to someone in the fraud department, and follow up in writing. Send your letters by certified mail; ask for a return receipt. That creates a record of your communications.

When you read your credit report, you may find unauthorized charges or accounts.

Create an Identity Theft Report

An Identity Theft Report helps you deal with credit reporting companies, debt collectors, and businesses that opened accounts in your name. You can use the Report to:

  • get fraudulent information removed from your credit report
  • stop a company from collecting debts that result from identity theft, or from selling the debt to another company for collection
  • place an extended fraud alert on your credit report
  • get information from companies about accounts the identity thief opened or misused

Creating an Identity Theft Report Involves 3 Steps:

  1. Submit a complaint about the theft to the FTC. When you finish writing all the details, print a copy of the report. It will print as an Identity Theft Affidavit.
  2. File a police report about the identity theft, and get a copy of the police report or the report number. Bring your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit when you file a police report.
  3. Attach your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report to make an Identity Theft Report.

Some companies want more information than the Identity Theft Report includes, or want different information. The information you need to provide depends on the policies of the credit reporting company and the business that sent the information about you to the credit reporting company.

HOW TO REPORT IDENTITY THEFT TO THE FTC AND PRINT AN FTC IDENTITY THEFT AFFIDAVIT

Consider Placing an Extended Fraud Alert

If you are a victim of identity theft and have created an Identity Theft Report, you can place an extended fraud alert on your credit file. It stays in effect for 7 years. When you place an extended alert:

  • you can get 2 free credit reports within 12 months from each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies
  • the credit reporting companies must take your name off marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for 5
    years, unless you ask them to put your name back on the list

HOW TO PLACE AN EXTENDED FRAUD ALERT

NEXT STEPS

Review Your Credit Reports

If you know an identity thief tampered with some of your accounts, you may have contacted the related businesses already. After you get your credit reports, read them to see whether other fraudulent transactions or accounts are listed.

Your credit report is full of information about where you live, how you pay your bills, and whether you’ve been sued or arrested, or have filed for bankruptcy. The information in your credit report is used to evaluate your applications for credit, insurance, employment, and renting a home, so it’s important that the information is accurate and up-to-date. Check all key information, including your:

  • name
  • address
  • Social Security number
  • employers

If you see errors on the report, like accounts you didn’t open or debts you didn’t incur, contact the credit reporting companies and the fraud department of each business that reported an error.

Dispute Errors with Credit Reporting Companies

If you find mistakes when you review your credit reports, send letters explaining the mistakes to:

  • the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies
  • the fraud department of each business that reported a fraudulent transaction on your existing accounts
  • the fraud department of each business that reported a new account opened in your name by an identity
    thief

If the errors result from identity theft and you have an Identity Theft Report, ask the credit reporting companies and business to block the disputed information from appearing on your credit reports. The credit reporting companies must block transactions and accounts if you are an identity theft victim.

HOW TO DISPUTE ERRORS WITH CREDIT REPORTING COMPANIES

After the business gets notice from the credit reporting company, it has 30 days to investigate and respond to the credit reporting company. If the business finds an error, it must notify the credit reporting company so your credit file can be corrected. If your credit file changes because of the business’ investigation, the credit reporting company must send you a letter with the results. The credit reporting company can’t add the disputed information back into your file unless the business says the information is correct. If the credit reporting company puts the information back in your file, it must send you a letter telling you that.

HOW TO DISPUTE FRAUDULENT CHARGES ON YOUR EXISTING ACCOUNTS

HOW TO DISPUTE FRAUDULENT ACCOUNTS OPENED IN YOUR NAME

Blocking: Report Errors to the Credit Reporting Companies

By law, credit reporting companies must block identity theft-related information from appearing on a victim’s credit report. They must block unauthorized transactions, accounts, and inquiries. To get unauthorized information blocked, you must give information to the credit reporting companies.

HOW TO ASK CREDIT REPORTING COMPANIES TO BLOCK INFORMATION

If the credit reporting company accepts your Identity Theft Report, it must block the fraudulent information from your credit report within 4 business days after accepting your Report, and tell the business that sent the fraudulent information about the block.

If the credit reporting company rejects your Identity Theft Report, it can take 5 days to ask you for more proof of the identity theft. It has 15 more days to work with you to get the information, and 5 days to review information you sent. It may reject any information you send after 15 days. It must tell you if it won’t block information. You can re-submit the Report.

After a business has been notified about a block of fraudulent information, it must:

  • stop reporting that information to all the credit reporting companies.
  • not sell or transfer a debt for collection.

Blocking: Report Errors to Businesses

Contact the business that sent the inaccurate information that appears on your credit report. Send a copy of your Identity Theft Report and a letter explaining what is inaccurate. After the business gets your Report, it must stop reporting the inaccurate information to the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies. However, the business still can try to collect a debt, and sell or transfer the debt to a collection company.

To prevent a business from collecting, selling or transferring a debt to a collection agency, you must contact the credit reporting companies and ask them to block fraudulent information.

HOW TO ASK A BUSINESS TO BLOCK INFORMATION

Get Copies of Documents the Identity Thief Used

Ask for copies of any documents the identity thief used to open a new account or make charges in your name. These documents can help prove the identity theft.

HOW TO GET COPIES OF DOCUMENTS THE IDENTITY THIEF USED

ATM and Debit Cards

As an identity theft victim, you have protections under federal law for ATM or debit card transactions. Federal law also limits your liability for the unauthorized electronic transfer of funds that result from identity theft.

It’s best to act as soon as you discover a withdrawal or purchase you didn’t make or authorize. Many card issuers have voluntarily agreed that an account holder will not owe more than $50 for transactions made with a lost or stolen ATM or debit card. However, under the law, the amount you can lose depends on how quickly you report the loss. If you don’t report within 60 days of the day your institution sent you the account statement showing the unauthorized withdrawals, you could lose all the money an identity thief took from your account.

HOW TO REPORT FRAUDULENT TRANSACTIONS

In most cases, the financial institution has 10 business days to investigate your report of a fraudulent transaction. It must tell you the results within 3 days of finishing the investigation and fix an error within 1 business day of finding it. In some cases, it can take 45 days to finish the investigation.

Checking Accounts

An identity thief may steal your paper checks, misuse the account number from the bottom of your checks, or open a new account in your name. If this happens, contact your bank or financial institution and ask them to close the account as soon as possible.

Federal law doesn’t limit your loss if a thief forges your signature on your checks or uses your account number to buy something by phone, but most states hold banks responsible for losses from those fraudulent transactions. However, banks expect their customers to take reasonable care of their accounts. That means you might be responsible for a loss if you know about a problem but don’t report it to your bank quickly.

HOW TO REPORT STOLEN CHECKS

HOW TO REPORT CHECKING ACCOUNTS OPENED IN YOUR NAME

WHAT IF A BUSINESS REJECTS YOUR CHECK?

WHAT IF A THIEF PASSES BAD CHECKS IN YOUR NAME?

Get Help from Bank or Financial Institution Regulators

If you are working with a bank or financial institution to resolve identity theft-related problems and need help, contact the agency that oversees the bank or financial institution.

Visit www.ffiec.gov/consumercenter to find out which agency to contact.

Credit Cards

Your liability for credit card charges that you didn’t authorize is limited to $50 per card. To dispute fraudulent charges, contact the credit card issuer within 60 days of the day the credit card issuer sends you the bill showing the fraudulent charges.

What if an identity thief changed the address on your account and you don’t get your statement? You are responsible for keeping track of your statements. If your statement doesn’t arrive on time, contact your credit card company.

HOW TO DISPUTE FRAUDULENT CHARGES ON YOUR CREDIT CARD

Bankruptcy Filed in Your Name

If you believe someone filed for bankruptcy in your name, contact the U.S. Trustee in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. The U.S. Trustee Program refers cases of suspected bankruptcy fraud to the United States Attorneys for possible investigation and prosecution. The U.S. Trustee can’t provide you with legal help, so you may need to hire an attorney.

HOW TO REPORT BANKRUPTCY FILED IN YOUR NAME

Investment Accounts

If an identity thief has tampered with your investments or brokerage accounts, contact your broker, account manager, and the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

HOW TO DEAL WITH AFFECTED INVESTMENT ACCOUNTS

Debt Collectors

A debt collector may contact you if an identity thief opens accounts in your name but doesn’t pay the bills. To stop contact and collection action, contact the debt collector, the business that opened the fraudulent account, and the credit reporting companies.

HOW TO DISPUTE A DEBT WITH A DEBT COLLECTOR

HOW TO STOP A DEBT COLLECTOR FROM SELLING OR TRANSFERRING A DEBT

Follow the steps, How to Ask Credit Reporting Companies to Block Information.

After each credit reporting company accepts your Identity Theft Report, it must tell the debt collector that the debt may be caused by identity theft. Then, the debt collector can’t sell or transfer the debt or report it to a credit reporting company.

HOW TO PERMANENTLY STOP CALLS AND LETTERS FROM A DEBT COLLECTOR

Government-Issued Identification

If your government-issued identification – for example your driver’s license, passport, or Medicare card – has been lost, stolen, or fraudulently misused, contact the agency that issued the identification.

HOW TO REPORT A LOST, STOLEN OR MISSING DRIVER’S LICENSE

HOW TO REPORT A LOST, STOLEN OR MISSING PASSPORT

Mail Theft

Sometimes an identity thief steals mail and uses it to get your personal and financial information, open new accounts, or commit tax fraud. The U.S. Postal Inspection Service, which investigates cases of identity theft, wants you to contact them and make a report.

HOW TO REPORT MAIL THEFT

Utilities

An identity thief may use your personal and financial information to get telephone, cable, electric, water, or other services. Report fraudulent accounts to the service provider as soon as you discover them.

HOW TO REPORT FRAUDULENT UTILITY CHARGES AND ACCOUNTS

Student Loans

An identity thief may use your personal or financial information to get a student loan. Contact the school or program that opened the loan and ask them to close the loan.

HOW TO REPORT FRAUDULENT STUDENT LOANS

Misuse of Social Security Number

An identity thief may steal your Social Security number and sell it, or use the number to get a job or other benefits. Contact the Social Security Administration when you discover any misuse of your Social Security number.

HOW TO REPORT MISUSE OF YOUR SOCIAL SECURITY NUMBER

Income Taxes

If someone uses your Social Security number to get a job, the employer will report the person’s earnings to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). When you file your tax return, you won’t include those earnings. But, IRS records will show you failed to report all your income, and you can expect to get a letter from the IRS.

If someone uses your Social Security number and files a tax return in your name before you file, they may get your refund. When you file your own return later, IRS records will show the first filing and refund, and you’ll get a letter from the IRS.

If you think someone has misused your Social Security number to get a job or tax refund – or the IRS sends you a notice indicating a problem – contact the IRS immediately. Specialists will work with you to protect your account.

HOW TO REPORT INCOME TAX FRAUD

Medical Identity Theft

If an identity thief gets medical treatment using your name, the thief’s medical information – for example, blood type, test results, allergies, or illnesses – can get into your medical file. Information about the thief can be added to your medical, health insurance, and payment records.

If you suspect an identity thief has used your medical information, get copies of your medical records. Under federal law, you have a right to know what’s in your medical files. Contact each doctor, clinic, hospital, pharmacy, laboratory, health plan, and anywhere you believe the thief has used your information. For example, if a thief got a prescription in your name, ask for the record from the pharmacy that filled the prescription and the health care provider who wrote the prescription. You may need to pay a fee to get copies of your records.

A provider might refuse to give you copies of your medical or billing records because it thinks that would violate the identity thief’s privacy rights. A provider who thinks that is mistaken: you have the right to know what’s in your file. If a provider denies your request, you have a right to appeal. Contact the person the provider lists in its Notice of Privacy Practices, the patient representative, or the ombudsman. Explain the situation and ask for your file. If the provider refuses to provide your records within 30 days of your written request, you may complain to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Office for Civil Rights at www.hhs.gov/ocr.

The medical provider or office that created the information must change any inaccurate or incomplete information in your files. They also should tell labs, other health care providers, and anyone else that might have gotten incorrect information. If an investigation doesn’t resolve your dispute, ask that a statement of the dispute be included in your record.

If a debt collector contacts you about a medical bill incurred by an identity thief, read more about dealing with
debt collectors in this guide.

HOW TO CORRECT ERRORS IN YOUR MEDICAL RECORDS

Child Identity Theft

Child identity theft happens when someone uses a child’s personal information to commit fraud. A thief may steal and use a child’s information to get a job, government benefits, medical care, utilities, car loans, or even a mortgage. Avoiding, discovering, and recovering from child identity theft involves some unique challenges.

Parents and guardians don’t expect a minor child to have a credit file and rarely request or review their child’s credit report. A thief who steals a child’s information may use it for many years before the crime is discovered. The victim may learn about the theft years later, when applying for a job, loan, or apartment, or when a business reviews the credit file and finds fraudulent accounts.

A parent or guardian can check whether a minor child has a credit report if they think the child’s information is at risk, say if the child’s Social Security card was lost, a school or business leaked the child’s personal information to the public, or bill collectors or government agencies contact the child about accounts the child didn’t open. To get a minor child’s credit report, a parent or guardian must contact the credit reporting companies and provide proof of identity and other documents.

HOW TO FIND OUT IF A CHILD HAS A CREDIT REPORT

If you find out that someone has misused your child’s personal information, follow these steps:

HOW TO HELP A CHILD VICTIM OF IDENTITY THEFT

Criminal Violations

If an identity thief uses your name, date of birth, Social Security number, or other personal information during an investigation or arrest, the information will be added to your state’s criminal database. The information also may be added to a national criminal database.

If you learn who the thief is, ask the criminal records database manager(s) to change the “key name” in the database. That way, the records will show the thief’s name instead of yours. Contact the agency that made the arrest, the court that convicted the identity thief, and your state Attorney General’s office to get documents that will help you show your innocence.

HOW TO CLEAR YOUR NAME OF CRIMINAL CHARGES

WHAT TO DO IF A COURT PROSECUTED A CASE AGAINST A THIEF WHO USED YOUR NAME

REDUCE YOUR RISK

Review Your Credit Reports

You have the right to get a free copy of your credit report every 12 months from each of the 3 nationwide credit reporting companies. Your credit report may show the first signs that someone has misused your information, so it’s important to check your report a few times a year. Ordering 1 free report every 4 months lets you monitor your file and spot errors early.

You can get your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. You must give your name, address, Social Security number, date of birth, and the answers to questions that only you would know – for example, “How much is your monthly mortgage payment?” Each credit reporting company may ask you for different information. Use the form in this guide to request your annual credit report by mail.

You also are entitled to a free copy of your credit report if:

  • a company takes an adverse action against you, like denying your application for credit, insurance, or employment. You must ask for your report within 60 days of receiving notice of the adverse action. The notice will give you the name, address, and phone number of the credit reporting company to contact.
  • you are unemployed and plan to look for a job within 60 days
  • you are on public assistance
  • your report is inaccurate because of fraud, including identity theft

Otherwise, a credit reporting company may charge you a fee for an additional copy of your report within a 12-month period. To buy a copy of your consolidated report you can click the link. To buy a copy of you individual credit reports contact:

Read Your Account and Billing Statements

  • Look for charges you didn’t make.
  • Be alert for bills that don’t arrive when you expect them.
  • Follow up if you get credit card or account statements you don’t expect.

Correct any errors as soon as possible.

Review Your Explanation of Medical Benefits

Call your medical insurer and health care provider if you see items that surprise you in your Explanation of Medical Benefits.

Respond Quickly to Notices from the Internal Revenue Service

If you get a notice from the IRS that suggests someone misused your Social Security number, respond quickly to the address included with the notice. The notice may say that you didn’t pay taxes on a job you know you never held, or that your Social Security number was used on another return. Remember that the IRS never makes first contact with taxpayers by email, and doesn’t ask for personal information through email. If you get email that claims to be from the IRS, call the IRS before you respond. Call 1-800-829-1040 for more information.

If you find out that an identity thief has used your Social Security number on a tax return, call the IRS’s Specialized Identity Theft Protection Unit at 1-800-908-4490.

Identity Theft Protection Services
Should you pay a company to monitor your financial accounts, credit reports, and personal information? Many people find it valuable and convenient to pay a company for monitoring services. Other people choose to exercise their legal rights and protect their information for free. When you understand your rights, it can be easier to decide if you want to use a commercial service.

Before you buy an identity theft protection or monitoring product or service, get the details. Know exactly what you’re paying for, as well as the total cost of the service.

Active Duty Alerts for Military Personnel

Military personnel have additional protections. If you’re deployed, you can place an active duty alert on your credit reports to help minimize the risk of identity theft while you’re away. Active duty alerts last for 1 year. If your deployment lasts longer, renew the alert.

HOW TO REQUEST AN ACTIVE DUTY ALERT

Protect Your Personal Information

Keep your important papers secure

  • Lock them up. Lock your financial documents and records in a safe place at home, and lock your wallet or purse in a safe place at work. Keep your information secure from roommates or workers who come into your home.
  • Limit what you carry. When you go out, take only the identification, credit, and debit cards you need. Leave your Social Security and Medicare cards at home or in a secure place.
  • Pick up your new checks at the bank. When you order new checks, don’t have them mailed to your home, unless you have a secure mailbox with a lock.
  • Be careful with your mail. Take outgoing mail to post office collection boxes or the post office. Promptly remove mail that arrives in your mailbox. If you will be away from home for several days, request a vacation hold on your mail:
    • go to your local post office,
    • visit www.usps.com/holdmail, or
    • call the U.S. Postal Service at 1-800-275-8777
  • Shred sensitive documents. Shred receipts, credit offers, credit applications, insurance forms, physician statements, checks, bank statements, expired charge cards, and similar documents before you put them in your trash.
  • Consider opting out of prescreened offers of credit and insurance by mail. You can opt out for 5 years or permanently. To opt out for 5 years, call 1-888-567-8688 or go to www.optoutprescreen.com. The 3 nationwide credit reporting companies operate the phone number and website.
  • Protect your medical information. Destroy the labels on prescription bottles before you throw them out. Don’t share your health plan information with anyone who offers free health services or products.
  • Exercise your curiosity. Before you share information at your workplace, a business, your child’s school, or a doctor’s office, ask who will have access to your information, how it will be handled, and how it will be disposed of.

Secure your Social Security Number

  • Protect it. Share your Social Security number, and your child’s, only when necessary. Ask if you can use a different kind of identification.
  • If someone asks you to share your Social Security number or your child’s, ask:
    • why they need it
    • how it will be used
    • how they will protect it
    • what happens if you don’t share the number

    The decision to share is yours. A business may not provide you with a service or benefit if you don’t provide your number.

  • Sometimes you must share your number. Your employer and financial institutions need your Social Security number for wage and tax reporting purposes. A business may ask for your Social Security number so they can check your credit when you apply for a loan, rent an apartment, or sign up for utility service.

Be alert to impersonators online

  • Be sure you know who is getting your personal or financial information online. If a company that claims to have an account with you sends email asking for personal information, don’t click on links in the email. Instead, type the company name into your web browser, go to their site, and contact them through customer service. Or, call the customer service number listed on your account statement. Ask whether the company really sent a request.

    Protect your computer and mobile device

  • Use anti-virus software, anti-spyware software, and a firewall. Set your preference to update these protections often. Protect against intrusions and infections that can compromise your computer files or passwords by installing security patches for your operating system and other software programs.
  • Don’t open files, click on links, or download programs sent by strangers. Opening a file from someone you don’t know could expose your system to a computer virus or spyware that captures your passwords or other information you type.
  • Safely dispose of personal information.
    • Before you dispose of a computer, get rid of all the personal information it stores. Use a wipe utility program to overwrite the entire hard drive.
    • Before you dispose of a mobile device:
      • Check your owner’s manual, the service provider’s website, or the device manufacturer’s website for information on how to delete information permanently, and how to save or transfer information to a new device.
      • Remove the memory or subscriber identity module (SIM) card from a mobile device. Remove the phone book, lists of calls made and received, voicemails, messages sent and received, organizer folders, web search history, and photos.

Protect your data and personal information

  • Encrypt your data. Keep your browser secure. To guard your online transactions, use encryption software that scrambles information you send over the internet. A “lock” icon on the status bar of your internet browser means your information will be safe when it’s transmitted. Look for the lock before you send personal or financial information online.
  • Be wise about Wi-Fi. Before you send personal information over your laptop or smartphone on a public wireless network in a coffee shop, library, airport, hotel, or other public place, see if your information will be protected. If you use an encrypted website, it protects only the information you send to and from that site. If you use a secure wireless network, all the information you send on that network is protected.
  • Keep passwords private. Use strong passwords with your laptop, credit, bank and other accounts. The longer the password, the harder it is to crack. Create passwords that mix letters, numbers, and special characters. Don’t use the same password for many accounts. If it’s stolen from you – or from one of the companies with which you do business – it can be used to take over all your accounts.
  • Don’t overshare on social networking sites. If you post too much information about yourself, an identity thief can find information about your life, use it to answer ‘challenge’ questions on your accounts, and get access to your money and personal information. Consider limiting access to your networking page to a small group of people. Never post your full name, Social Security number, address, phone number, or account numbers in publicly accessible sites.
  • Lock up your laptop. Keep financial information on your laptop only when necessary. Don’t use an automatic login feature that saves your user name and password, and always log off when you’re finished. That way, if your laptop is stolen, it will be harder for a thief to get at your personal information.
  • Read privacy policies. Yes, they can be long and complex, but they tell you how the site maintains accuracy, access, security, and control of the personal information it collects; how it uses the information, and whether it provides information to third parties. If you don’t see or understand a site’s privacy policy, consider doing business elsewhere.
  • Sample Letters

    SAMPLE DISPUTE LETTER FOR EXISTING ACCOUNTS

    SAMPLE DISPUTE LETTER FOR NEW ACCOUNTS

    SAMPLE DISPUTE LETTER TO CREDIT REPORTING COMPANY

    MEMO FROM FTC TO LAW ENFORCEMENT

    To: Law Enforcement Officer
    From: Division of Privacy and Identity Protection, The Federal Trade Commission
    Re: Importance of Identity Theft Report

    The purpose of this memorandum is to explain what an “Identity Theft Report” is, and its importance to identity theft victims in helping them to recover. A police report that contains specific details of an identity theft is considered an “Identity Theft Report” under section 605B of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA), and it entitles an identity theft victim to certain important protections that can help him or her recover more quickly from identity theft.

    Specifically, under sections 605B, 615(f) and 623(a)(6) of the FCRA, an Identity Theft Report can be used to permanently block fraudulent information that results from identity theft, such as accounts or addresses, from appearing on a victim’s credit report. It will also make sure these debts do not reappear on the credit reports. Identity Theft Reports can prevent a company from continuing to collect debts that result from identity theft, or selling them to others for collection. An Identity Theft Report is also needed to allow an identity theft victim to place an extended fraud alert on his or her credit report.

    In order for a police report to be incorporated in an Identity Theft Report, and therefore entitle an identity theft victim to the protections discussed above, the police report must contain details about the accounts and inaccurate information that resulted from the identity theft. We advise victims to bring a printed copy of their ID Theft Complaint filed with the FTC with them to the police station in order to better assist you in creating a detailed police report so that these victims can access the important protections available to them if they have an Identity Theft Report. The victim should sign the ID Theft Complaint in your presence. If possible, you should attach or incorporate the ID Theft Complaint into the police report, and sign the “Law Enforcement Report Information” section of the FTC’s ID Theft Complaint. In addition, please provide the identity theft victim with a copy of the Identity Theft Report (the police report with the victim’s ID Theft Complaint attached or incorporated) to permit the victim to dispute the fraudulent accounts and debts created by the identity thief. – Source

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