Identity Theft – It Can Happen to You
Most people are unaware of identity theft until months after the fact when the damage is done and suddenly problems start cropping up everywhere. For most people, the first clues of possible ID theft are:
Being turned down for credit because of low credit scores, and bills are always paid on time.
Receiving a credit card in the mail, you did not apply for
Worse yet, a bill collector calls and starts demanding payment for purchases you did not make.
These are obvious clues that someone has compromised your identity and immediate action is needed on your part.
What is Identity Theft?
Identity thieves steals your identifying information, age, birth date, social security number, mother’s maiden name, etc., and uses this information to apply for credit, and make purchases as if they were you. Businesses gladly extend credit to these thieves because they think they are selling their products to you, someone with excellent credit.
Most identity thieves go on a fast buying spree once they have your personal information. They continue buying and charging purchases as quickly as possible until they are turned down for purchases because they have ruined your credit, and/or you have found them out and are shutting down their ability to use your identity. Then they move on to the next victim. At that point, you start getting calls from the collection companies demanding payment for purchases you did not make and your nightmare begins…
Check Your Credit Report – For Identity Theft Clues
Your credit report is one of the first places to check to determine if you are a victim of identity theft. If it shows you have bills that are not being paid on time, and you know you do pay on time, or if it shows that you’ve made purchases that you have not made or have credit where you’ve not applied then you should start investigating immediately. The longer you wait, the more damaging it will be. Identity theft can make it difficult or impossible to obtain new credit yourself until you get it resolved. Unfortunately, it is not possible to ignore this problem, it will not go away on its own. You need to act quickly and aggressively to minimize the damage.
ATM and Bank Checking Accounts – Identity Theft is not limited to Credit Cards
Identity thieves are experts at getting into bank accounts and accessing funds. Report a stolen ATM card immediately. Typically, the longer the crime goes unreported, the more likely you are to be responsible for the charges incurred. Don’t just ask for a replacement card, get a new account number and password as well. Electronic banking is another area where you need to be careful, and report any possible compromise of your checking account security to the appropriate authorities immediately.
Steps to Recovery – For Identity Theft Victims
Notify the credit bureaus… there are three Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. When you notify one of these bureaus that you are a potential victim of identity theft, they will notify the other two bureaus for you. Ask for a “fraud alert”. This will require the business to call you before extending credit. Consider using your cell phone number if you have one. It will be more convenient for you. Initially this alert lasts for only 3 months. However, you can then ask that it be extended for up to seven years, but you must make a separate request for the extension.
Continue to monitor your credit reports… you should check your report every few months to make certain that your thief is not using your information again. All creditors do not check credit reports before issuing credit. Every state has different laws on obtaining free credit reports. Check your state for how many you can request without a charge.
Report the Crime to Law Enforcement… Report the crime to the local police or Sherriff. Many times credit card companies require a copy of the police report in order to verify the crime.
Report the Crime to the FTC… They do not investigate the crimes, but report them to investigators nationwide.
If New Accounts are Opened… If your thief continues to open new accounts, you need to have a contingency plan. Notify the business immediately by phone and in writing. This action can prevent them from being able to report the non-payment to the credit bureaus. You should also request that the forward all information they collected from the thief to your fraud investigation officer.
Current Debit or Credit Accounts… If your thief has used these accounts, request in writing replacement cards with new account numbers and be sure to use NEW security passwords. Do not use anything that can be easily guessed with the information your thief has, like your mother’s maiden name.
Debt collectors… You are not required to pay the bills run up by your thief. You do need to make the debt collectors aware of what has happened, and should send them copies of the police reports or any other information they request. Be sure to make sure they close the collection account. Your diligent management of these requests will simplify the recovery process for you.
Check and banking fraud… If you had checks stolen, or had a bank account setup fraudulently, your bank, when notified, will report to “ChexSystems”. They will also place a security alert on your file.
ATM Cards… If your ATM card is stolen, you will need to report it to the bank, and fill out a fraud affidavit. You can then get a new card, account number and password.
Cell Phone Service Fraud… Identity thieves like to establish fraudulent cell phone accounts and leave the bills unpaid. You should follow the same steps you do with any other business to clear up this issue. If your calling card or cell phone has been stolen, report it to the company, cancel the service, and request a new account with new passwords etc.
Legal help… If you are not getting the cooperation that you feel you should be getting from the credit bureaus, or are continuing to be harassed from creditors then you should contact an attorney. They will help you with your recovery to see that the fraudulent reporting is cleared from your records. They are a great resource to help you manage the ID theft disaster.
This can be a very stressful experience, and one that can have an emotional impact on the strongest of people. Don’t give in, people do recover from this disaster. Do not pay any portion of a bill that is resulting from fraud. Do not file for bankruptcy. Do not let collection agencies or anyone else coerce you into paying fraudulent bills. Report these high pressure attempts to law enforcement, the FTC and your investigation officer immediately.
Order Credit Report… Whether you are currently a victim of identity theft, or are wanting to prevent a future disaster by managing your credit and making a risk assessment for possible theft on a regular basis, it is smart to evaluate risks, and assess the validity of your credit report on an ongoing basis.