Identity Theft Recovery for Victims
If you become a victim, there is good news and there is bad news.
First, the good news. In general, an identity theft victim who suffers credit (card) and banking fraud will be liable for no more than the first $50 of the loss per account (15 USC 1643). [Note: This does not seem to apply to debit cards. You're on your own here.]
Also, the fraudulent use of identification documents and information is a Federal crime. The Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 became effective October 30, 1998 makes identity theft a Federal crime with penalties of up to 15 years in prison and a maximum fine of $250,000. See the text of Title 18 United States Code - Section 1028.
In addition to Federal laws, your state may also have identity theft laws that can help you. Contact your states Attorney General's office or visit the consumer protection agency.
The bad news is that you will have to work hard and long to clear up your credit record. For starters, here are some overall suggestions:
- Keep careful records of everything you do and everyone you talk with. Record the dates, names, affiliation, and time spent with those you contact. Record the outcome of each encounter, including what the other person promised to do and what you promised to do. Keep copies of every correspondence.
- Follow up all conversations (on the phone or in person) with a written summary of your conversation.
- Send all correspondence to law enforcement agencies, credit grantors, and credit reporting agencies by certified mail. Keep copies of the correspondence and the certified mail receipts.
- Never agree to pay any portion of the debt to get collection agencies off the case. This is an admission of guilt and will go against you in the long run. You could be liable for any remaining debt you have not cleared up.
- Prepare to fill out signed affidavits of forgery to establish your innocence for all the financially involved parties.
In addition to these general suggestions, you should follow up with the following agencies.
- Immediately report the crime to the police. Provide as much evidence as you can. Insist that they fill out a police report that you can give to all involved financial institutions.
Though some police department are reluctant to fill out such reports, be assertive and insist that they do so.
- Work with the fraud departments of the various credit card companies to suggest that they notify the U.S. Secret Service. The Secret Service has jurisdiction over financial fraud cases.
Credit Reporting Agencies
- Contact the three major credit reporting agencies to notify them of the problem and provide as much evidence as you have. Ask them to log the theft and remove the fraudulent information from your credit record. call Equifax at (800) 525-6285, Experian at (888) 397-3742, and Trans Union at (800) 680-7289.
- Request that a "fraud alert" be placed on your credit report. This will alert any credit provider to contact you before issuing a new credit card. Call and then write each agency.
- Trans Union, Fraud Victim Assistance Department
P. O. Box 6790
Fullerton, Calif. 92834
Call (800) 680-7289.
P. O. Box 740241
Atlanta, Ga. 30374-0241
Call (800) 525-6285.
P. O. Box 1017
Allen, Texas 75013
Call (800) 301-7195.
- Request a copy of your credit record from each agency. This is a free service for victims of fraud.
- The nearest office of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service may be able to give you advice on removing fraudulent claims from your credit report. Call 800-388-2227.
Credit Card Issuers
- Call your credit card issuers to cancel your credit cards. Cancel them with the status "Account closed at customer's request." If you allow the closing status to be "Card lost or stolen" the "lost" part could place blame on you. Request new cards with different credit card numbers. Follow up in writing with the details of each card you wish canceled.
- Call each company that issued a fraudulent credit card to obtain a copy of the signed credit card contract. You must have this document to prove you did not authorize the issuance of the card and are therefore not responsible for the charges. You may have difficulty locating the person authorized to send you a copy of the contract, but be persistent. Follow up in writing to the address given for "billing inquiries," not the address for sending your payments.
- Call each company that issued a fraudulent credit card to request their procedures for handling fraudulent accounts or charges. They may require a signed affidavit of fraud, police reports, or other documents. Cooperate with these procedures to expedite their bureaucratic process. Once they acknowledge fraud, ask them to send the three credit reporting agencies a letter confirming the fraudulent activity.
- Notify each company that issued a fraudulent credit card that the card is, indeed, fraudulent and charges against that card are fraudulent.
- Continue calling each company that issued a fraudulent credit card to track their progress in their investigation.
Banks or Credit Unions
- If your ATM card has been compromised, get a new card. Use a new password that is not related to your date of birth, address, Social Security number, or any other aspect of your life.
- If checks were stolen or fraudulent bank accounts were set up, report it to TeleCheck, National Processing Company (NPC) or Equifax. Cancel any compromised accounts.
- Notify the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The FTC serves as the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. Your can use their On-Line Complaint Form
- Report fraudulent use of your Social Security number to the Social Security Administration (SSA). You can call the SSA Office at 1-800-269-0271 between 10:00 AM and 4:00 PM Eastern time.
- Notify the passport office to be watch out for anyone ordering a passport in your name.
- If your believe someone has fraudulently filed bankruptcy in your name, write to the U.S. Trustee in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. A listing of the U.S. Trustee Program's regions can be found at the U.S. Department of Justice or look in the Blue Pages of your phone book under U.S. Government--Bankruptcy Administration.
- Notify your utilities (electric, gas, water, local and long distance telephone) to watch out for anyone ordering service in your name. If you have a long distance calling card, you may want to cancel it and obtain a new card.
If you are having trouble getting fraudulent utility charges removed from your account, contact your state Public Utility Commission. For trouble with long distance phone service providers contact the Federal Communications Commission at (888) CALL-FCC or look at the FCC website.
- Notify the Post Office if you suspect theft of mail. Mail theft is a felony.
- Notify your Secretary of State if your drivers license number was used to obtain fraudulent credit. Request a new drivers license number.
- Notify the following agencies if your checks have be fraudulently used:
- Check Rite -- Phone: 800-766-2748
- Equifax-Telecredit -- Phone: 800-437-5120
- NPC -- Phone: 800-526-5380
- Tele-Check -- Phone: 800 366-2425
- Chex Systems -- Phone: 800-328-5121
Identity theft is becoming easier to commit. Information about individuals is more available, even online on the Internet, than ever before. To see how easy it is, click the image below.
Other useful information about identity theft can be found at the following sites:
Identity theft: How it's done, what you need to know.
Identity theft prevention: Steps you can take.
Your credit report: What's in it and what how to get it.
Identity Theft Prevention and Victim Help