Recovering From Identity Theft
ID Theft is a serious crime. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years - and hard-earned money - cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. In the meantime, victims may lose job opportunities or be refused loans, education, housing or cars, even get arrested for crimes they didn't commit. Recovering is a process better begun early rather than late.
What are the first steps I should take?
Consider your ID Theft incident as your "case." Your primary goals are to:
What can ID Watch do for me?
ID Watch will help you by making sure the proper paperwork is filled out and that the correct authorities and institutions are contacted. Copies of your credit reports will be sent to you, alerts will be sent, public records and financial dossiers will be made available for you to go over for any suspect information. A Recovery Advocate will be assigned to your case to help you understand the information you have and what to do with it.
Follow up all calls to the authorities and financial institutions in writing. Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep copies for your files.
Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports.
Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact any of the three major credit reporting agencies to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too.
Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled
to order free copies of your credit reports, and, if you ask, only the last
four digits of your SSN will appear on your credit reports.
What to look for in a credit report?
Inquiries on credit reports from potential credit card issuers do not always mean that some one has tried to get credit in your name. Banks and credit card companies often inquire about a consumer's creditworthiness to help them target their marketing efforts. These inquiries will be identified in a designated section of the report. You should continue to check your reports periodically, especially in the first year of discovery, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.
How do I correct inaccurate information on my credit reports?
The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) establishes procedures for correcting mistakes on your credit record and requires that your record be made available only for certain legitimate business needs.
Under the FCRA, both the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company), such as a bank or credit card company, are responsible for correcting fraudulent information in your report. To protect your rights under the law, contact both the consumer reporting company and the information provider.
Consumer Reporting Company Obligations
Consumer reporting companies will block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report if you take the following steps: send them a copy of an ID theft report and a letter telling them what information is fraudulent. The letter also should state that the information does not relate to any transaction that you made or authorized. Send your letter by certified mail, and request a return receipt so you can document what the credit bureau received and when. Keep copies of your dispute letter and enclosures. In addition, provide proof of your identity that may include your SSN, name, address, and other personal information requested by the consumer reporting company.
The consumer reporting company has four business days to block the fraudulent information after accepting your ID Theft report. It also must tell the information provider that it has blocked the information. The consumer reporting company may refuse to block the information or remove the block if, for example, you have not told the truth about your identity theft. If the consumer reporting company removes the block or refuses to place the block, it must let you know.
The blocking process is only one way for ID Theft victims to deal with fraudulent information. There's also the reinvestigation process, which was designed to help all consumers dispute errors or inaccuracies on their credit reports.
For more information, consult How
to Dispute Credit Report Errors and Fair Credit
Reporting.çthis should link to http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/freereports.htm
Information providers stop reporting fraudulent information to the consumer reporting companies once you send them an identity theft report and a letter explaining that the information that they're reporting resulted from ID Theft. You must send your ID Theft report and letter to the address specified by the information provider. Note that the information provider may continue to report the information if it later learns that the information does not result from identity theft.
If a consumer reporting company tells an information provider that it has blocked fraudulent information in your credit report, the information provider may not continue to report that information to the consumer reporting company. The information provider also may not hire someone to collect the debt that relates to the fraudulent account, or sell that debt to anyone else who would try to collect it.
How do I prove I'm a victim?
Creditor documentation can help you prove that you are a victim. For example, you may be able to show that the signature on an application is not yours. By law (the Fair Credit Reporting Act section 609(e), creditors must give you a copy of the application or other business transaction records relating to your ID Theft free of charge. Creditors must provide these records within 30 days of receipt of your request.You also may give permission to any law enforcement agency to get these records.
In order to obtain these records, you must mail your request to the address chosen by the creditor.Contact the creditor's fraud department by telephone to find out if the creditor has chosen a specific address. The creditor is entitled to ask you for:
A business does not have to provide the records in all cases. For instance, a business will not provide the
records if it reviews your proof of identity and still does not have a high
degree of confidence that it knows your true identity, or if you have not told
the truth in making your request. A business also does not have to provide the records if it is prohibited from
doing so under other provisions of state or federal law. Please note that the Gramm-Leach-Bliley Act
(Subtitle A of title V of Public Law 106-102) does not prohibit the release
of records to a victim of ID Theft.
What is an ID Theft report?
An identity theft report may have two parts:
Part One is a copy of a report filed with a local, state, or federal law enforcement agency, like your local police department, your State Attorney General, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, the FTC, and the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. There is no federal law requiring a federal agency to take a report about ID Theft; however, some state laws require local police departments to take reports. When you file a report, provide as much information as you can about the crime, including anything you know about the dates of the ID Theft, the fraudulent accounts opened and the alleged identity thief.
Note: Knowingly submitting false information could subject you to criminal prosecution for perjury.
Part Two of an ID Theft report depends on the policies of the consumer reporting company and the information provider (the business that sent the information to the consumer reporting company). That is, they may ask you to provide information or documentation in addition to that included in the law enforcement report, which is reasonably intended to verify your ID Theft. They must make their request within 15 days of receiving your law enforcement report, or, if you already obtained an extended fraud alert on your credit report, the date you submit your request to the credit reporting company for information blocking. The consumer reporting company and information provider then have 15 more days to work with you to make sure your ID Theft report contains everything they need. They are entitled to take five days to review any information you give them. For example, if you give them information 11 days after they request it, they do not have to make a final decision until 16 days after they asked you for that information. If you give them any information after the 15-day deadline, they can reject your ID Theft report as incomplete; you will have to resubmit your ID Theft report with the correct information.
You may find that most federal and state agencies, and some local police departments, offer only automated reports: a report that does not require a face-to-face meeting with a law enforcement officer. Automated reports may be submitted online, or by telephone or mail. If you have a choice, do not use an automated report. The reason? It's more difficult for the consumer reporting company or information provider to verify the information. Unless you are asking a consumer reporting company to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report, you probably will have to provide additional information or documentation when you use an automated report.
What should I do if the local police will not take a report?
There are efforts at the federal, state and local level to ensure that local law enforcement agencies understand identity theft, its impact on victims, and the importance of taking a police report. However, we still hear that some departments are not taking reports.The following tips may help you to get a report if you're having difficulties:
Filing a complaint with the FTC
The Federal Trade Commission is the federal clearinghouse for ID Theft complaints. While they are not involved in prosecuting or investigating cases, filing a complaint with the FTC is an important step in clearing up your ID Theft concerns.The FTC takes information from your complaint and shares that information with the proper law enforcement authorities and credit bureaus.This not only helps you, it helps law enforcement to prevent future fraud cases.
The FTC uses the information from these complaints to educate consumers on how to protect their information, businesses on the best way to protect your interests and their own, and police and other agencies on ID theft prosecution and law enforcement.
The information is put into a secure national database that law enforcement uses for their investigations. Sometimes, identity thieves steal several identities at once, something your local police may know nothing about. Patterns or other evidence may then come to light, which federal and local law enforcement can use to solve your case.
Although an investigation does not necessarily follow filing a complaint with the FTC, it does lend authority to your case at the local level. If the local police do not have the work force to give your case individual attention, they may find that there are several cases in the community that share similar traits. They may then open a case based on the number of complaints in the community.
For more information, or to file a complaint, see www.ftc.gov.
When should I contact the SS administration?
The Social Security Administration's Office of the
Inspector General investigates cases that involve the use of your SSN to
fraudulently obtain Social Security benefits.
They also investigate cases that involve the use of counterfeit SSN
cards, the manufacturing or selling of counterfeit SSN cards, the selling of
legitimate SSN cards or information, or the misuse of SSNs linked to terrorist
groups or activities.Report any of
these allegations to the SSA Fraud Hotline.
Call: 1-800- 269-0271; fax: 410-597-0118; write: SSA Fraud Hotline,
You also can call SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the accuracy of the earnings reported on your SSN, and to request a copy of your Social Security Statement or to get a replacement SSN card if yours is lost or stolen. Follow up in writing.
For more information: http://www.ssa.gov/pubs/idtheft.htm
Should I apply for a new SSN?
Under certain circumstances, the Social Security Administration may issue you a new SSN - at your request - if, after trying to resolve the problems brought on by ID Theft, you continue to experience problems. Consider this option carefully. A new SSN may not resolve your ID Theft problems, and may actually create new problems. For example, a new SSN does not necessarily ensure a new credit record because credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old SSN with those from your new SSN. Even when the old credit information is not associated with your new SSN, the absence of any credit history under your new SSN may make it more difficult for you to get credit.Finally, there's no guarantee that a new SSN wouldn't also be misused by an identity thief.
What should I do if someone has tampered with my existing accounts?
What should I do about unauthorized charges on my CC's?
The Fair Credit Billing Act (FCBA) establishes procedures for resolving billing errors on your credit card accounts, including fraudulent charges on your accounts and limits your liability for unauthorized credit card charges to $50 per card.
To take advantage of the law's consumer protections, you must:
The creditor must acknowledge your complaint in writing within 30 days after receiving it, unless the problem has been resolved. The creditor must resolve the dispute within two billing cycles (but not more than 90 days) after receiving your letter.
What should I do if someone is misusing my checking account?
In general, if an identity thief steals your checks or counterfeits checks from your existing bank account, stop payment, close the account, and ask your bank to notify Chex Systems, Inc. or the check verification service with which it does business. That way, retailers can be notified not to accept these checks. While no federal law limits your losses if someone uses your checks with a forged signature, or uses another type of paper transaction such as a demand draft, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from such transactions. At the same time, most states 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 manner that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.
You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services:
To request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks, call:
To find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name, call:
If your checks are rejected by a merchant, it may be because an identity thief is using the Magnetic Information Character Recognition (MICR) code (the numbers at the bottom of checks), your driver's license number, or another identification number. The merchant who rejects your check should give you its check verification company contact information so you can find out what information the thief is using. If you find that the thief is using your MICR code, ask your bank to close your checking account, and open a new one. If you discover that the thief is using your driver's license number or some other identification number, work with your DMV or other identification issuing agency to get new identification with new numbers. Once you have taken the appropriate steps, your checks should be accepted.
You may ask banks or merchants for the business transaction records relating to your ID Theft, if you think that this information will be helpful to prove that are you are a victim. They must provide this information free of charge.
How do I get back money stolen using my debit card or other electronic means?
You have 60 days from the date your bank account statement is sent to you to report in writing any money withdrawn from your account without your permission. This includes instances when your ATM or debit card is skimmed, that is, when a thief captures your account number and PIN without your card having been lost or stolen.
If your ATM or debit card is lost or stolen, report it immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.
It's important to report lost or stolen ATM and debit cards immediately because the amount you can be held responsible for depends on how quickly you report the loss.
Note: VISA and MasterCard have voluntarily agreed to
limit consumers' liability for unauthorized use of their debit cards in most
instances to $50 per card, no matter how much time has elapsed since the
discovery of the loss or theft of the card.
After receiving notification about an error on your statement, the institution generally has 10 business days to investigate. The financial institution must tell you the results of its investigation within three business days after completing it and must correct an error within one business day after determining that the error has occurred.If the institution needs more time, it may take up to 45 days to complete the investigation - but only if the money in dispute is returned to your account and you are notified promptly of the credit.At the end of the investigation, if no error has been found, the institution may take the money back if it sends you a written explanation.
You may ask the banks for the business transaction records relating to your ID Theft, if you think that this information will be helpful to prove that are you are a victim.They must provide this information free of charge.
For more information, see Electronic Banking and Credit, ATM and Debit Cards: What to do if They're Lost or Stolen
What do I do if someone has opened new bank accounts?
If you have trouble opening a new checking account, it may be because an identity thief has been opening accounts in your name. Chex Systems, Inc. produces consumer reports specifically about checking accounts, and as a consumer reporting company, is subject to the Fair Credit Reporting Act. You can request a free copy of your consumer report by contacting Chex Systems, Inc. Contact each of the banks where account inquiries were made, too. This will help ensure that any fraudulently opened accounts are closed.
Chex Systems, Inc.: 1-800‑428‑9623; www.chexhelp.com
You may ask the banks for a copy of the application or the business transaction records relating to your ID Theft, if you think that this information will be helpful to prove that are you are a victim.They must provide this information free of charge.
What do I do if my bank won't correct the fraud?
laws determine your legal remedies based on the type of bank fraud you have
suffered.For example, state laws
protect you against fraud committed by a thief using paper documents, like
stolen or counterfeit checks. But if the thief used an electronic fund
transfer, federal law applies. Many transactions may seem to be processed
electronically but are still considered paper transactions. If you're not
sure what type of transaction the thief used to commit the fraud, ask the
financial institution that processed the transaction.
Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) - www.fdic.gov
Classic Cons... And How to
Counter Them -
A Crook Has Drained Your
Account. Who Pays? -
Your Wallet: A Loser's
Federal Reserve System (Fed) - www.federalreserve.gov
Call: 202-452-3693; or write: Division of Consumer and
Community Affairs, Mail Stop 801, Federal Reserve Board, Washington, DC 20551;
or contact the Federal Reserve Bank in your area. The 12 Reserve Banks are located in
National Credit Union Administration (NCUA) - www.ncua.gov
Call: 703-518-6360; or write: Compliance Officer, National
Credit Union Administration,
Office of the Comptroller of the Currency (OCC) - www.occ.treas.gov
Call: 1-800-613-6743 (business days 9:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.
CST); fax: 713-336-4301; write: Customer Assistance Group,
Check Fraud: A Guide to
Avoiding Losses -
How to Avoid Becoming a
Victim of ID Theft -
Office of Thrift Supervision (OTS) - www.ots.treas.gov
Call: 202-906-6000; or write: Office of Thrift Supervision,
What do I do if someone has opened new credit accounts in my name?
Contact the fraud department of each creditor. Close the accounts and dispute any charges run up on those accounts.Do not pay the charges.Most creditors will require you to fill out fraud forms.To save yourself time, ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit.If not, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. Find out what, if any, other documentation, such as a police report, the company will need. You may ask creditors for a copy of the application or other business transaction records relating to your ID Theft, if you think that this information will be helpful to prove that are you are a victim. Creditors must provide this information free of charge.
How do I contact the company that has opened fraudulent accounts?
If the company is listed in your credit report, the credit bureau can provide the contact information. If it's a well-known company, you may be able to obtain a listing from your telephone directory book or the toll-free directory (1-800-555-1212). You also can use a search engine on the Internet, or your local librarian may be able to help you.
How do I stop debt collectors from contacting me?
The Fair Debt Collection Practices Act prohibits debt collectors from using unfair or deceptive practices to collect overdue bills that a creditor has forwarded for collection.
You can stop a debt collector from contacting you by writing a letter to the collection agency telling them to stop. Once the debt collector receives your letter, the company may not contact you again - with two exceptions: they can tell you there will be no further contact and they can tell you that the debt collector or the creditor intends to take some specific action.
A collector also may not contact you if, within 30 days after you receive the written notice, you send the collection agency a letter stating you do not owe the money.In this case, a collector can renew collection activities if you are sent proof of the debt. So, along with your letter stating you don't owe the money, include copies of documents that support your position. Including a copy (NOT an original) of the police report you filed may be particularly useful.
If you don't have documentation to support your position, be as specific as possible about why the debt collector is mistaken. The debt collector is responsible for sending you proof that you're wrong.For example, if the debt in dispute originates from a credit card you never applied for, ask for the actual application containing the applicant's signature.You can then prove that it's not your signature on the application.
If you tell the debt collector that you are a victim of ID Theft and it is collecting the debt for another company, the debt collector must tell that company that you may be a victim of ID Theft.
Remember, while you can stop the debt collectors from contacting you, that won't necessarily get rid of the debt itself. It's important to contact the creditors individually to dispute the debt, otherwise, the creditor may send it to a different debt collector, report it on your credit report, or institute a lawsuit.
For more information, consult Fair Debt Collection.
What do I do if someone has filed for bankruptcy in my name?
If you believe someone has filed for bankruptcy in your name, write to the U.S. Trustee (UST) in the region where the bankruptcy was filed.A list of the U.S. Trustee Program's Regional Offices is available on the UST Web site, or check the Blue Pages of your phone book under U.S. Government Bankruptcy Administration.
Your letter should describe the situation and provide proof of your identity.The U.S. Trustee, if appropriate, will make a criminal referral to law enforcement authorities if you provide appropriate documentation to substantiate your claim. You also may want to file a complaint with the U.S. Attorney and/or the FBI in the city where the bankruptcy was filed.The U.S. Trustee does not provide legal representation, legal advice or referrals to lawyers. That means you may need to hire an attorney to help convince the bankruptcy court that the filing is fraudulent. The U.S. Trustee does not provide consumers with copies of court documents.Those documents are available from the bankruptcy clerk's office for a fee.
For more information, see U. S. Trustee - www.usdoj.gov/ust
What do I do about criminal records in my name?
Although procedures to correct your record within criminal justice databases vary from state to state, and even from county to county, the following information can be used as a general guide.
If criminal violations are wrongfully attributed to your name, contact the arresting or citing law enforcement agency - that is, the police or sheriff's department that originally arrested the person using your identity, or the court agency that issued the warrant for the arrest. File an impersonation report to confirm your identity.The police department may take a full set of your fingerprints and your photograph, and copies any photo identification documents like your driver's license, passport or visa. They should compare the prints and photographs with those of the imposter to establish your innocence. If the arrest warrant is from a state or county other than where you live, ask your local police department to send the impersonation report to the police department in the jurisdiction where the arrest warrant, traffic citation or criminal conviction originated.
The law enforcement agency should then recall any warrants and issue a "clearance letter" or certificate of release (if you were arrested/booked).You'll need to keep this document with you at all times in case you're wrongly arrested. Also, ask the law enforcement agency to file, with the district attorney's (D.A.) office and/or court where the crime took place, the record of the follow-up investigation establishing your innocence. This will result in an amended complaint being issued.Once your name is recorded in a criminal database, it's unlikely that it will be completely removed from the official record.Ask that the "key name," or "primary name," be changed from your name to the imposter's name (or to "John Doe" if the imposter's true identity is not known), with your name noted only as an alias.
You'll also want to clear your name in the court records. You'll need to determine which state law(s) will help you do this and how.If your state has no formal procedure for clearing your record, contact the D.A.'s office in the county where the case was originally prosecuted. Ask the D.A.'s office for the appropriate court records needed to clear your name.
Contact your state DMV to find out if your driver's license is being used by the identity thief.Ask that your files be flagged for possible fraud.
Finally, you may need to hire a criminal defense attorney to help you clear your name.Contact Legal Services in your state or your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.
What do I do if the thief has gotten a DL in my name?
If you think your name or SSN is being used by an identity thief to get a driver's license or a non-driver's ID card, contact your DMV.If your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number.
What do I do about investment transactions made in my name?
The U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission's (SEC) Office of
Investor Education and Assistance serves investors who complain to the SEC
about investment fraud or the mishandling of their investments by securities
professionals.If you believe that an
identity thief has tampered with your securities investments or a brokerage
account, immediately report it to your broker or account manager and to the SEC. You can file a complaint with the SEC using
Be sure to include as much detail as possible. If you don't have access to the Internet, you
can write to the SEC at: SEC Office of Investor Education and Assistance,
What do I do about stolen mail or fraudulent changes of address?
The U.S. Postal Inspection Service (USPIS) is the law
enforcement arm of the U.S. Postal Service and is responsible for investigating
cases of ID Theft.USPIS has primary
jurisdiction in all matters infringing on the integrity of the
What do I do if my passport is lost or stolen?
If you've lost your passport or believe it was stolen, or is being used fraudulently, contact the United States Department of State (USDS) at http://www.travel.state.gov/passport/about/npic/npic_898.html, or call a local USDS field office.Local field offices are listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.
What do I do if the thief has obtained phone service in my name?
If an identity thief has established phone service in your name, is making unauthorized calls that seem to come from - and are billed to - your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and/or calling card. Open new accounts and choose new PINs. If you're having trouble getting fraudulent phone charges removed from your account or getting an unauthorized account closed, contact the appropriate agency from the list below.
For local service, contact your state Public Utility Commission, listed in the Blue Pages of your telephone directory.
For cellular phones and long distance, contact the Federal
Communications Commission (FCC) - www.fcc.gov.The FCC
regulates interstate and international communications by radio, television,
wire, satellite and cable.You can
contact the FCC's Consumer Information Bureau to find out about information,
forms, applications and current issues before the FCC. Call: 1-888-CALL-FCC; TTY: 1-888-TELL-FCC; or
write: Federal Communications Commission, Consumer Information Bureau,
What do I do if the thief has used my ID to take out a student loan?
Contact the school or program that opened the student loan to close the loan. At the same time, report the fraudulent loan to the U.S. Department of Education.
Call: Inspector General's Hotline at 1-800-MIS-USED
Write: Office of Inspector General
What do I do if the thief is using my ID to file tax returns?
The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) (www.treas.gov/irs/ci) is responsible for administering and enforcing tax laws. If you believe someone has assumed your identity to file federal Income Tax Returns, or to commit other tax fraud, call toll-free: 1-800-829-0433.Victims of ID Theft who are having trouble filing their returns should call the IRS Taxpayer Advocates Office, toll-free: 1-877-777-4778.
Can a credit repair company clear up my record for me?
Claims by companies that they can clear up your credit record are often misleading or false.ID Theft victims, in particular, need to clear up debts with the original creditor. Most companies won't deal with a third party.For more information, see Credit Repair: Self-Help May Be Best.
What should I do if I have done everything you've advised and I am still having problems?
There are cases where victims do everything right and still spend years dealing with problems related to ID Theft. The good news is that most victims can get their cases resolved by being vigilant, assertive and organized. Don't procrastinate on contacting companies to address the problems.Don't be afraid to go up the chain of command or make complaints, if necessary. Keep organized files. If you haven't filed a complaint with the FTC or updated it, you should do so and provide details of the problems that you are having.If your problems are stemming from a failure of a party to perform its legal obligations, you may want to consult an attorney who specializes in such violations. Contact Legal Services in your state or your local bar association for help in finding an attorney.