Identity Theft

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.


The tradeline 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 identity thief.


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.


Chronologically, 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 on you.
  • 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.
  • A statement that the account was in error.
  • Why you believe the credit report is in error.
  • What 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
  • Attach 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).
  • Credit 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.
  • Checking 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:

Contacts:

  • Department 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 dlbmail@dor.mo.gov, or by mail at Driver License Bureau 301 West High Street - Room 470 Jefferson City, MO 65105-0200.
  • U.S. 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: oig.hotline@ssa.gov.
  • 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.

Links:

TIPS FOR PREVENTING IDENTITY THEFT

  • Car prowl is a prime source for identity theft.  Thieves know to look in merchandise bags for credit receipts - which often print your credit card number.
  • Have your mail delivered to a secure location.  Mail box theft is another common source for identity thieves.  Your credit card bill has everything a criminal needs to make purchases by telephone or on the Internet.
  • Don't put bill payments in your unlocked mailbox for postal pickup.
  • Carefully review your account statements and credit bills.  Contest any unauthorized items or entries.
  • Don't give out personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the call.  Identity thieves can pose as representatives of banks, ISPs, collection agencies, government agencies, etc. to get you to reveal your account numbers, passwords, SSN, or mother's maiden name.
  • Never use a debit card or check when shopping online.  Once stolen from your account, it can be difficult to recover your money.  Consider using one credit card only for your online purchases.  Use a secure browser when sending credit card numbers over the Internet.  Review your bill carefully as soon as you get it.  Contest unauthorized charges.
  • Keep a list of all your credit/debit cards, card numbers, and issuer phone numbers.  This will facilitate your reports to creditors/banks if your purse/wallet is stolen.
  • Memorize your ATM password.  Never store the password in your purse or wallet.
  • Shred your financial garbage including credit receipts, pre-approved credit offers, credit checks.  Cross-cut shredders are best.
  • Cancel unused credit cards and charge accounts.
  • Be stingy with your SSN.  Don't give it out to everyone who asks.  Make thoughtful decisions regarding whether the requester really needs it.  Ask to use other types of personal identifiers.
  • Do not print your SSN or drivers license number on your checks.  Take only the number of checks you will need on a given day.  Keep pads of blank checks in a safe place.
  • Never carry anything with your SSN on it.  If your health insurance card shows your SSN, ask your insurer for a new card without the SSN.  Until you get your new insurance card, carry it only when you need to use it.
  • Prevent credit reporting agencies from selling your name, SSN, address and credit rating.  Merchants who want to offer you credit cards or sell you merchandise buy your financial information.  This is a source for personal information that can ultimately be published on the Internet.  Contact the "Opt out" option of all credit reporting agencies.
  • Prevent your creditors and identity clearinghouses from selling or "sharing" your personal information.  Your creditors generally sell or "share" your name, address, SSN, financial information, spending and bill paying habits unless you tell them not to.  This information often finds its way to clearinghouses for personal information, and to the Internet.  Find sample letters preventing disclosure at Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, and JUNKBUSTERS.  Lists of clearinghouses and other publishers of personal information are also available.
  • Obtain and review your credit reports regularly.  Check all three major credit reporting agencies.  Dispute incorrect information.  Be sure the agency has a correct address for you, especially if you have moved or suspect your identity has been stolen.  Contact information for credit reporting agencies is listed above.

Please note: This information is only provided for general background and is not intended as legal advice.