Damage Control From Identity Theft
There's no doubt that identity theft – when someone uses your personal information such as Social Security, credit card or driver's license numbers to make purchases or open accounts – is widespread in the United States. A comprehensive study by the Federal Trade Commission found that there were nearly 10 million victims in 2002. All told, identity theft costs businesses and individuals nearly $50 billion in that one year alone.
If you think you've had your identity stolen, follow this checklist of the actions you should take now to recover your good name.
- Get organized. You're going to need to navigate a bureaucratic maze to fully recover from identity theft, so get ready by organizing all your credit- and identity-related information.
- File a police report. Include as many details as possible. Get copies of the report to send to your creditors, who may require proof of the crime.
- Put a fraud alert on your credit file. Contact the fraud department of one of the three major credit bureaus and ask that a fraud alert be placed on your credit file. This alert requests creditors to contact you before opening any new accounts or making any changes to your current accounts. As soon as the fraud alert is in place with one credit bureau, the other two will be automatically notified to place alerts on your files with them. The three bureaus are Equifax (888-766-0008), Experian (888-397-3742) and TransUnion (800-680-7289).
- Fill out an ID theft affidavit. This affidavit is offered by the Federal Trade Commission to make it easier for identity theft victims to document accounts that have been opened or used in your name. Many creditors will request a copy of this affidavit to investigate your claim.
- Contact your creditors. Contact the fraud department of each company where you believe your accounts have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. This can include credit card companies, banks and mortgage companies. Report the fraud and close each account. Make your requests in writing, sent by certified mail, return receipt requested, so that you can document what each company received and when.
- Follow up. Keep a close eye on your credit report for any new suspicious activity, particularly in the first year after you've been a victim of identity theft. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com to order copies of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus.
With your access to loans, housing or even job opportunities on the line, identity theft is serious business. If you become the victim of ID theft, take the right steps immediately to minimize the damage.
Lewis Schiff founded the Armchair Millionaire Web site in 1997 and is the author of The Armchair Millionaire (Atria, 2002). The report, "How to Know When You Are Rich," is available at www.armchairmillionaire.com.