Recovering From Identity Theft/ March 25th, 2002
ID Theft and
Anna Smith, Welch's co-worker, has an even more harrowing story. Smith bought a new car and before the first payment was due she received a phone call telling her the car was going to be repossessed. After working her way through a maze of deceit she discovered that a ring of thieves was using her identity across the country.
Six years later, she's still battling misinformation on her credit report and fending off creditors for the remainder of the $90,000 damage done in her name. And for Smith, there was more than financial damagethe thieves also obtained bogus drivers' licenses in her name in Illinois, Michigan, Nevada, and California.
|Shred billing statements and any documents containing personal information before throwing them away.|
Contact the three major credit bureaus
Explain your situation and ask that they put a fraud alert in your file. "The fraud alert is a statement that says fraudulent applications for credit may be [being] made using your correct information," says Dave Mooney, spokesperson for Equifax. It also instructs that you be contacted before any new accounts are opened or existing ones changed.
At the same time, order copies of your credit report, which credit bureaus must give you free if your report is inaccurate because of fraud. The bureaus worked with the FTC to design an "ID Theft Affidavit" that they will send you or you can get by calling the FTC at 877-IDTHEFT or at its Web site.
|More than 200,000 consumers filed complaints about identity theft in 2001.|
Next, check the primary section of the report, which contains information about open accounts or accounts opened in the past seven years. Make note of any unfamiliar accounts. Then check the inquiries section, which lists companies that are checking your report because they've received applications, says Foley. Request that these inquiries be removed from your file and that any misinformation in the header be corrected.
Sadly, you might find a familiar address listed on your credit report. Foley says that in 12% to 17% of identity theft cases, the victim knows the suspect, and of this group, 65% are estimated to be family members. Victims then face the hard choice of turning a family member over to the police, or trying to work things outwithout outside intervention.
Contact creditors about fraudulent accounts
Mooney says that when a consumer calls Equifax to report identity theft, Equifax gives the phone number of the fraud desk at any creditor. "They need to call them right away and dispute it," says Mooney. The FTC advises consumers to follow up with a letterthe procedure required by lawto resolve errors on credit card billing statements.
|"Looking back I wish I would have just admitted what happened and asked for help, instead of relying on myself."|
Ask your creditors if they'll accept the FTC affidavit and if they need a copy of your police report. Expect to put in a lot of effort to get things straightened out. Welch says it seemed like it took forever to get the misinformation off her credit reports. She had to fax a lot of information to creditors proving who she was and where she lived. "It was so frustrating; it felt like the credit people were working against me, not with me." Some consumers run up huge bills, however, and then "create" an identity thief to take the rapso creditors' caution is not always misplaced.
File a police report
Now you're ready to call your local police or sheriff's department to file a report. Ask them to give you the report number and a copy of the report, which you'll need in order to get help from creditors.
Create an ID theft case file
The Identity Theft Resource Center created a fact sheet called "Organizing Your Identity Theft Case" to help victims become their own strongest advocates. This comprehensive how-to publication covers such areas as keeping good notes in an organized journal, setting up an organized file system, and keeping track of expenses incurred while working on your case.
"I wish I would have kept hard copies along with electronic copies of my files," says Anna Smith. Things she thought were cleared up occasionally pop up, and she says she constantly has to dig for information. "Looking back I wish I would have just admitted what happened and asked for help, instead of relying on myself."