Dealing with Identity Theft - Part I
Identity theft is a growing concern in our technologically advanced age and it's one that can truly plague a person for the rest of his life. If you've been the victim of identity theft, it is very important to know what to do and how to act. Here, we offer guidelines to take you through the process when you suspect that someone has stolen your identity.
How Would You Know?
First of all, many people wonder how they would even know if someone had stolen their identity. There are many ways for this to come to your attention. You might apply for a credit card and be turned down because of a low credit score, even though you know you've always paid your accounts in a timely fashion. Perhaps a debt collector calls you to demand payment on your many overdue credit cards for accounts that you've never opened. You might receive a credit card in the mail for a card that you never applied for. These are a few of the many ways that you may realize there is a problem. The more careful you are with your accounts, and the more on top of your finances you are, the more easily you'll see the signs that someone has committed identity theft with your information.
Now What? Place a Fraud Alert
Once you realize that there might be a problem - it's time to act FAST! First, you need to notify your credit bureaus and establish a fraud alert. Report your suspicions to the fraud department of the three credit reporting companies - Experian, Equifax and TransUnion. Usually, once you've notified one company that you suspect identity theft, they will notify the other companies. By notifying these companies, your file will be flagged and creditors will be required to call you before they extend credit. The Fair Credit Reporting Act only allows you to place your initial fraud alert for 90 days. The credit bureaus will mail you a notice of your rights as an identity theft victim. You need to contact each of these companies and request a free copy of your credit report and an extension of the fraud alert for up to seven years. Be aware that, in order to get the seven year alert, you have to be able to show proof of someone trying to open fraudulent accounts and an identity theft report from police.
Create a File
Start now to create a paper trail for yourself of all of your interactions and reports with the credit bureaus. Keep track of the unique number that your credit report has been assigned and only mail things using certified, return receipt mail. Save all credit reports, police reports, and other documents that you acquire as part of this attempt to restore your credit and your name.
Examining Your Credit Reports
Once your credit reports have arrived, make sure to go through them very carefully. In writing, identify any fraudulent accounts or false information to both the credit bureaus and to the credit issuers using the instructions that the credit reports provide. The FTC's identity theft guide even has a sample letter that shows you what to write to the credit bureaus so that you can request that fraudulent accounts be blocked. You should also tell the credit bureaus, in writing, to remove any inquiries that have been generated as a result of the fraudulent access.
Check The Reports Again In a Few Months
These measures are certainly a start, but they may not prevent new fraudulent accounts from being opened by the identity thief. Unfortunately, credit issuers don't always pay attention to fraud alerts, even though the law requires them to do so. For this reason, you should request copies of your credit reports again in a few months time and check them over for unusual activity.