Identity Theft Victim

Identity theft victims can face hundreds of hours of work in restoring their good name and credit.  Many an identity theft victim only finds out that they are an identity theft victim some eighteen months after it first occurs.  To discover you are an Identity theft victim is a very ugly nightmare that can theoretically happen to anyone.  HOWEVER - there are many different details you should give and steps to take to recover the situation.

Identity Theft Victim - Report the Crime

If you discover that you have become an identity theft victim or even only SUSPECT that you are an identity theft victim, the first step is to report the crime to all police and sheriff's departments with jurisdiction in your case IMMEDIATELY.  Give as much documented evidence as possible.  Obtain a copy of your police report.  Keep the phone number of your fraud investigator to hand and give it to creditors and others who require verification of your case.  Your credit card companies, your bank, and the insurance company (if  you have had the foresight to take out a policy that covers you against being an identity theft victim) may require you to show the report in order to verify the crime. Some police departments have been known to refuse to write reports when someone has become an identity theft victim.  Do not under any circumstances give up.  Persevere.  The Secret Service has jurisdiction over financial fraud cases, but it usually does not investigate individual cases unless the losses are exceptionally high or you are only one identity theft victim of many resulting from the activities of a fraud ring. To interest the Secret Service in your case, you may want to ask the fraud department of the credit card companies and/or banks, as well as the police investigator, to notify the particular Secret Service agent they work with. Notify the Postal Inspector if you suspect mail theft. Theft of mail is a federal crime and is a felony.

Identity Theft Victim


Identity Theft Victim - Tell Credit Reference Agencies


The next step for an identity theft victim is to immediately call the fraud units of the credit reporting companies. Report the theft of your credit cards or numbers. Ask that your account be flagged.  Add an identity theft victim statement to your report, up to hundred or so words. Be sure to ask how long the fraud alert will be posted on your account, and how you can extend it if necessary.  The nearest office of the Consumer Credit Counseling Service might be able to give you advice on removing fraudulent claims from your credit report.

After this you should immediately contact all your credit card issuers, both by telephone and in writing.  Keep a copy of your letter.  Ask for replacement credit and debit cards with totally new account numbers. Ask that the old accounts be processed because when this statement is reported to the credit bureaus, it can be interpreted as blaming you for the losses.  Follow everything up in writing AND KEEP A COPY.  This protects you in case of any dispute with the credit card issuer. Carefully monitor your mail and credit card bills for evidence of any new fraudulent activity. 

You may be asked by banks and credit grantors to fill out and notarize fraud affidavits, which could become costly. The law does not require that a notarized affidavit be provided to creditors.  A written statement and supporting documentation should be enough (unless the creditor offers to pay for the notary.) Overly burdensome requirements by creditors should be reported to federal government authorities.  For help in determining which agency to contact, call the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.

Identity Theft Victim - Notify Your Bank(s)

If you ever discover or suspect you are an identity theft victim you should notify your bank(s) of the theft. Cancel your checking and savings accounts and obtain new account numbers.  Ask the bank to issue you a secret password that must be used in every transaction.  It would in fact be better to use a password of your own choice than one suggested by someone at your bank.  Comedian Harry Hill in the UK was recently an identity theft victim that involved a member of the staff at his bank assisting two criminals who went undetected).  Put stop payments on any outstanding checks that you are unsure of.  Give the bank a secret password for your account (not your mother's maiden name).  If you have had checks stolen or bank accounts set up fraudulently, report it to Tele Check, National Processing Company (NPC) or Equifax.  If you use an ATM card for banking services, get a new card, account number and password.  Do not use your old password.  When creating a password, avoid such commonly used numbers as the last four digits of your Social Security number and your birth date.

Identity Theft Victim - Notify the Postal Authorities

Notify the local Postal Inspector if you suspect an identity thief has filed a change of your address with the post office or has used the mail to commit credit or bank fraud.  Find out where fraudulent credit cards were sent.  If you discover this address, tell the police.  Notify the local Postmaster for that address to forward all mail in your name to your own address. You may also need to talk with the mail carrier.  If there is fraudulent use of your Social Security number, call the Social Security Administration. You may want to have your Social Security number changed if your number has become associated with bad checks and credit. But the Social Security Administration will only change it if you fit their identity theft victim criteria. You must be sure to notify all credit grantors and credit reporting bureaus of your new Social Security Number.  Also order a copy of your Earnings and Benefits Statement and check it for accuracy.

Identity Theft Victim - Notify the Passport Office

If you have a passport, notify the passport office in writing to be on the lookout for anyone ordering a new passport fraudulently.  You will also need to call your telephone, electric, gas and water utilities.  Alert them to the possibility that someone may attempt to open new service using your identification.  Contact your long distance company.  You may need to cancel your long distance calling card if it has been stolen or if the account number has been accessed by someone else.  When opening a new one, provide a password which must be used any time the account is changed.

You may also need to change your driver's license number if someone is using yours as identification on bad checks. Call the state office of the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) to see if another license was issued in your name.  Put a fraud alert on your license.  Go to your local DMV to request a new number.  Also, fill out the DMV's complaint form to begin the fraud investigation process. Send supporting documents with the completed form to the nearest DMV investigation office.

Sometimes victims of identity theft are wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the imposter. If a civil judgment has been entered in your name for actions taken by your imposter, contact the court where the judgment was entered and report that you are a victim of identity theft. If you are wrongfully prosecuted for criminal charges, contact the state Department of Justice and the FBI. Ask for help in clearing your name.

Consider seeking legal counsel, especially if you have difficulty clearing up your credit history, or your case is complex and involves a lot of money. Or for determining legal action to take against creditors and/or credit bureaus if they are not cooperative in removing fraudulent entries from your credit report or if negligence is a factor. Call the local Bar Association to find an attorney who specializes in consumer law and the Fair Credit Reporting Act. An attorney can help you recover from the fraud and determine whether your rights under various credits, banking, Social Security and other laws have been violated.

Victims of identity theft often report they feel they are somehow to blame. They can also feel violated, even powerless, due to the fact that few, if any, of the authorities who have been notified of the crime step forward to help the victim.  Discuss your situation with a friend or counselor.  Psychological counseling may help you deal with the stress and anxiety commonly experienced by victims. Know that you are not alone.  Contact the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse for information on how to network with other victims.

Write to your state and federal legislators.  Demand stronger privacy protection and fraud assistance by creditors and credit bureaus.  Contact Privacy Rights Clearinghouse for information on any pending state or federal legislation.

Finally, do not pay any bill or portion of a bill which is a result of identity theft.  Do not cover any checks which were written and/or cashed fraudulently.  Your credit rating should not be permanently affected, and no legal action should be taken against you. If any merchant, financial institution or collection agency suggests otherwise, simply restate your willingness to cooperate, but don\t allow you to be coerced into paying fraudulent bills.