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Even if you’ve been very careful about keeping your personal information to yourself, an identity thief can strike. If you suspect that your personal information has been used to commit fraud or theft, take the following four steps right away. Remember to follow up all calls in writing; send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when; and keep copies for your files.
1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports.
Call the toll-free fraud number of any one of the three major credit bureaus to place a fraud alert on your credit report. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name. As soon as the credit bureau confirms your fraud alert, the other two credit bureaus will automatically be notified to place fraud alerts on your credit report, and all three reports will be sent to you free of charge.
Once you receive your reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries you didn’t initiate, accounts you didn’t open, and unexplained debts on your true accounts. You should also check information such as your SSN, address(es), name or initial, and employers are correct. Inaccuracies in this information also may be due to typographical errors. Nevertheless, whether inaccuracies are due to fraud or error, you should notify the credit bureau as soon as possible by telephone and in writing. You should continue to check your reports periodically, especially in the first year after you’ve discovered theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred. The automated “one-call” fraud alert process only works for the initial placement of your fraud alert. Orders for additional credit reports or renewals of your fraud alerts must be made separately at each of the three major credit bureaus.
2. Close any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.
Credit accounts include all accounts with banks, credit card companies and other lenders, and phone companies, utilities, ISPs, and other service providers.
If you’re closing existing accounts and opening new ones, use a new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords.
If your checks have been stolen or misused, close the account and ask your institution to notify the appropriate check verification service. While no federal law limits your losses if someone steals your checks and forges your signature, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from a forged check, but they also require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely way that a check was lost or stolen.
You should also contact these major check verification companies. Ask that retailers who use their databases not accept your checks.
Call SCAN (1-800-262-7771) to find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name.
1. File a report with your local police or police in the community where the identity theft took place.
Keep a copy of the report. You may need it to validate your claims to creditors. If you can’t get a copy, at least get the report number.
2. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC also can refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and companies for further action. The FTC enters the information you provide into their secure database.