How to Protect Yourself: Identity Theft
Source: The Florida Attorney General’s Office
Identity theft is a serious problem that affects millions each year. When an imposter uses your name, Social Security number (SSN), credit card number or any other form of personal information without your knowledge and permission, it’s a crime.
Unfortunately, sometimes victims remain unaware that their identity has been stolen until they receive monthly statements for credit card accounts they never applied for, credit reports including unfamiliar debts or monthly statements that include unauthorized charges.
If someone has stolen your identity, immediately take these three steps:
Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Ask them to flag your file with a fraud alert and include a statement that creditors should ask for permission before opening any new accounts under your name.
Ask the credit bureaus for copies of your credit reports. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of fraud. Consumers may also receive one free copy of their credit report each year from the three major credit bureaus through www.annualcreditreport.com. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized charges made to your existing accounts. In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify corrections and changes and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred. For more information, visit http://www.identitytheft.gov.
Company Report Fraud Other Credit Report Web Site Equifax 1-800-525-6285 1-800-685-1111 http://www.equifax.com/ Experian 1-888-397-3742 1-888-397-3742 http://www.experian.com/ Trans Union 1-800-680-7289 1-800-916-8800 http://www.tuc.com/
- Contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Speak with someone in the security or fraud department, and follow up in writing. Following up with a letter is one of the procedures spelled out in the Fair Credit Billing Act for resolving errors on credit billing statements, including charges that you have not made. You may find sample letters from the FTC online at http://www.identitytheft.gov.
- File a report with your local police department or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Make multiple copies to provide to creditors as proof of fraudulent use of your identity. Some creditors may be unwilling or unable to remove fraudulent charges from your account until they have received a police report.
Take control of your identity.
Although identity thieves can destroy your personal finances, there are some things you can do to take control of the situation.
Some ways to handle the most common forms of identity theft are:
A- If an identity thief has stolen your mail for access to new credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers and tax information or falsified change-of-address forms, that person has committed a crime. Report it to your local postal inspector. You may contact the United States Postal Inspection Service online at https://postalinspectors.uspis.gov/.
B- If an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing credit card account, close the account immediately. When you open a new account, ask that a password be used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account. Avoid using easily available information like your mother’s maiden name, birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or phone number or a series of consecutive numbers. Avoid the same information and numbers when you create a Personal Identification Number (PIN).
C- If an identity thief has accessed your bank accounts, checking account or ATM card, close the accounts immediately. When you open new accounts, insist on password-only access. If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment. If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card and ask for another with a new PIN. For more information, you may also contact the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC), and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency online Office of the Comptroller of the Currency.
D- If an identity thief has established new phone or wireless service in your name and is making unauthorized calls that appear to come from—and are billed to—your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and calling card. Obtain new accounts and new PINs.
E- If an identity thief is using your social security number (SSN) when applying for a job, get in touch with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify the accuracy of your reported earnings and that your name is reported correctly. Call (800) 772-1213 to check your social security statement. To report SSN fraud online or to review your Social Security work history, log on to http://www.socialsecurity.gov/myaccount.
F- If, after trying to resolve the problems brought on by identity theft you continue to experience problems, the SSA may issue you a new SSN at your request. However, consider this option very carefully. A new SSN may not resolve your identity theft problems, and may actually create new problems. For example, a new SSN does not ensure a new credit record because credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old SSN with those from your new SSN. Even when the old credit information is not associated with your new SSN, the absence of any credit history under your new SSN may make it difficult to obtain credit. Lastly, there is no guarantee that a new SSN would not also be misused by an identity thief.
G- If any identity thief is using your name or SSN to obtain a driver’s license, report it to your state’s Department of Motor Vehicles. Also, if your state uses your SSN as your driver’s license number, ask to substitute another number.
Taking the steps outlined here should, in most cases, resolve your identity theft problems, but identity theft or related credit problems may reoccur. Stay alert to new instances of identity theft. Notify the company, creditor or agency that is involved immediately and always follow up in writing.
Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit bureaus every year to check on their accuracy and whether they include only those debts and loans you’ve incurred. This could be very important if you’re considering a major purchase, such as a house or car. A credit bureau may charge a fee for a copy of your report.
More resources and information, including an identity theft toolkit, are available online at http://myfloridalegal.com/identitytheft.
If you’ve been a victim of identity theft, file a complaint with FTC at http://www.identitytheft.gov.
You may also file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which acts as the State’s consumer complaint clearinghouse, at www.floridaconsumerhelp.com.