If your identity
has been stolen, there are some things you can do to begin the process of protecting yourself. We have provided some
useful information below that should help. This is general information, and is provided for informational purposes only.
It might not apply to your situation. You should seek the advice of an attorney who is knowledgeable about this very
special field of law.
If you think your private information has been compromised, you
should do five things right away:
FIRST STEP - GET YOUR CREDIT REPORTS.
Order Your Credit Report.
Once you have your credit report, it is important for you to review the “tradeline” section, the “inquiry”
section, and the “collection accounts” section of your reports.
section shows the payment histories of established accounts, i.e. accounts where credit has been granted (e.g. credit card
companies, car loans etc.). It can take weeks or even several months for opened accounts to appear in the tradeline
of a credit report. The time lag happens because credit card companies and loan companies only report monthly.
If any accounts appear in the tradeline section that don’t belong to you, it’s likely they were created by an
The credit inquiry section of a credit report is the most important
section to find out what is happening to your credit. This shows what companies have pulled your credit report.
The credit inquiry section will show on your credit report as a credit inquiry almost immediately. From the credit inquiry
section, you can get a good idea of any accounts that may appear on the tradeline in the next few weeks (after the lag period
mentioned above). You can see if there are any patterns to the inquiries. If you don't have recent inquiries you
might rest a little easier, although theft of identity is still possible (for instance for checking accounts, someone assuming
your identity to apply for a job etc.). If you see many applications, but the accounts never appear in the tradeline,
there is a possibility the thief was turned down for credit in your name.
the next credit report section that is involved in the theft of identity timeline is the collection accounts (these accounts
are separate on Equifax reports and blended with tradelines on Experian and Trans Union reports). Generally, credit
companies charge off delinquent accounts after six months and, when they do, they send it to collection agencies (although
they can be and sometimes are assigned much earlier). The result of bad checks from a fraud-related bank account may
start appearing on the credit report (under the collection account section) a few months after the fraud (since most states
require notices to be issued to the last known address of the consumer) and have been known to pop up years later. There
is some possibility a judgment may be taken against the defrauder using your name. A judgment will usually appear on
the credit report over six months later.
In sum, by looking at the credit report you
can tell the likelihood you are a victim and if so, the scope and timeframe of the fraud (and whether the defrauder is still
applying for credit). Inquiries will show immediately, tradelines will show a few weeks later, collection accounts a
few months later, checking accounts a few months or years later and judgments months or years later.
SECOND STEP - ORDER A FRAUD ALERT.
If you think you are a theft of identity victim, this may actually be your first step. The fraud alert discloses
a phone number you provide and asks any creditor who is asked to open a credit account in your name to call that number before
opening a credit account. (Using this technique can be a problem if you move or change your number.) To have a
fraud alert activated, call:
Supposedly, you only need
to contact one credit reporting bureau, and they will share your request so that the alert will be listed on all reports (however,
out of caution, you should probably contact all three anyway). There are two types of fraud alerts. An Initial
Alert stays on your report for 90 days. An Extended Alert stays on your report for seven years. To have an Extended
Alert implemented, you will have to provide an affidavit of fraud (see the fourth step, below). Once a fraud alert has
been added to your report, it can only be removed by a written request from you.
THIRD STEP - GET A POLICE REPORT.
This can be difficult with some police departments. If all you can get is a case opened without a report, be
sure to get the report number and the name of the police officer taking your report. This way you can refer anyone conducting
an investigation into the reporting of your credit over to the proper person. If the police department refuses to accept
a report, be sure to memorialize this in writing (e.g. “this letter is to confirm you will not take my report of crime
of theft of identity against me . . .”). Some extremely abusive credit card companies insist on the police report
where the credit card company extended credit to a family member who does not want to do this to a family member. If
this situation applies to you, it is important that you contact an attorney to give advice on what to do.
FOURTH STEP - COMPLETE AFFIDAVIT OF FRAUD.
The Federal Trade Commission helped put together an affidavit of fraud that all the credit reporting bureaus accept.
The FTC affidavit is available at: http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/conline/pubs/credit/affidavit.pdf. Send a copy to all three major credit bureaus, plus any company
where you suspect a thief used your identity to obtain credit. If a company refuses to accept the FTC affidavit, ask
them for a copy of their own fraud reporting form.
FIFTH STEP - DISPUTE.
Dispute the accounts in WRITING by certified mail with return receipt requested. It's
important to send credit dispute letters to:
- The credit bureaus who are reporting inaccurate information
- The duped creditors who extended credit to the identity thief and now want you to pay.
- Any debt collectors
hired by the duped creditors to collect from you.
Although there are companies
that sell form credit dispute letters, these forms do not have any magical powers to resolve the credit dispute, and often
they do not really capture that facts of your situation very well. It’s better to write your own letter that accurately
reflects your situation than to use a prepared form that does not. A credit dispute letter should include the following:
- The name of the company reporting the inaccurate entry.
- The credit account number.
statement that the account was in error.
- Why you believe the credit report is in error.
you want done (i.e. whether you want the entire account deleted or corrected in a certain way).
- That you want
a statement from the CRA of the manner in which it investigated the claim including the name and phone number of anyone contacted
in connection with the reinvestigation.
- Your name, social security number, address and date of birth
relevant documents to your dispute.
Some other things you may want to include in certain
situations might be:
- If you moved recently, a copy of your credit report from that company or
a copy of your driver’s license or utility bill that shows your current address.
- If you are dealing
with a collection agency, a request for verification.
- If you are dealing with a credit card company,
a request for a statement of billing error.
- If you are dealing with a credit reporting agency and
were denied credit because of their report, a demand that they send corrected information directly to a company that denied
you credit because of their report.
To get an idea what a credit dispute letter might
look like, you can view some sample letters online at http://www.myfaircredit.com/. These are not form letters, but rather examples that may serve
as a helpful starting point in writing your own credit dispute letters.
It is very important
to send your disputes in writing by certified mail with return receipt requested. There are several reasons for this.
First and foremost, the obligations of some credit companies under some laws are not triggered unless you provide
a written dispute. This means there are some situations when they would be required by law to act if you sent them a
letter, but not if you told them the exact same thing by telephone or e-mail.
Second, the return receipt allows
you to prove they received your dispute. Some credit companies, especially debt collectors, are known for pretending
that they never heard from you if it suits their interests. If you end up having to take the dispute before a regulatory
agency or court, the return receipt may be your only way to prove that you made a dispute and when you made it.
Third, having everything in writing allows you to accurately track the case. There may be many people involved in
your dispute before it is resolved. For one thing, many of the employees of credit institutions turn over regularly
and you may be sent to a different person for each investigation. Also, you may need to show your paperwork to attorneys,
law enforcement (in fraud cases), regulatory agencies, and perhaps to a court. Having documents helps others “get
up to speed.” Many credit companies use software to have a chronology of their contacts with you, but it is recorded
in a very self-serving manner to make the company look reasonable at your expense. Don't rely on a creditor keeping
track of your matter in anything but a self-serving manner.
Fourth, sending everything in writing by certified
mail shows you mean business. Just the fact that you bothered to collect your thoughts and write formally shows that
you truly are concerned with the credit errors on your report. If you need the help of an attorney or regulatory agency
later, they are more likely to take note of the seriousness with which you regard the matter.
ADDITIONAL STEPS THAT MAY APPLY
- Opt Out of Prescreening. As part of the same procedure, you may want to consider
opting out of credit offers. Credit reporting bureaus sell some of your information to companies that then mail you
offers. If you use a rural mailbox or the place you receive mail is not secure, this is a problem. You can eliminate
these mailings even if you aren't a victim of fraud. The number to opt out is 1-888-567-8688 (1-888-5Opt-Out).
Freeze. Some states allow you to put a freeze on your credit that allows you to turn on and off the
ability to apply for credit. Missouri and Illinois both have a credit freeze law.
Account Theft of Identity. The most hard-to-resolve issues for victims of theft of identity happen when
the thief is able to obtain a checking account in the identity of the victim. Hundreds of checks can be issues that in turn
may involve many collection agencies. In addition, there are companies that guarantee checks that appear in almost every
case of checking account fraud. These companies are merging and being sold, so you may have to check if the number has
been disconnected. These companies are as follows:
OTHER PLACES YOU CAN FIND HELP:
of Motor Vehicles. Someone may have obtained a drivers license using your identity. Contact the
Missouri Department of Revenue Driver License Bureau by telephone at (573) 526-2407 (24-hour automated system) or (573) 751-2730
(license issuance), by e-mail at email@example.com, or by mail at Driver License Bureau 301 West High Street - Room 470 Jefferson City, MO 65105-0200.
Postal Service. If mail theft or a bogus change of address card was submitted, the U.S. Postal Inspector
should be contacted. http://www.usps.com/postalinspectors/fraud/welcome.htm
- Social Security Administration. If your social security number has been used
by an identity thief, contact the SSA Fraud Hotline (800) 269-0271, PO Box 17768 Baltimore, MD 21235, or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Federal Trade Commission. ID Theft Hotline: 1-877-IDTheft (1-877-438-4338); ID
Theft Clearinghouse, FTC, 600 Pennsylvania Ave NW, Washington DC 20580.
- Missouri Attorney
General. The Missouri Attorney General has an Identity Theft Complaint Form available online at http://www.ago.mo.gov/forms/idtheftcomplaintform.pdf which you can use to report identity theft. You can also view the Attorney General’s identity theft website at
http://www.ago.mo.gov/publications/idtheft.htm. You can contact their office at: Attorney General’s Office, Consumer Protection Unit PO Box 899 Jefferson City,
MO 65102 or 1-800-392-8222.
TIPS FOR PREVENTING IDENTITY THEFT
Please note: This information is only provided for general background and is not intended as legal advice.