Identity theft is on the rise. Identity thieves steal personal information, credit cards data, bank account data, bank loans and even jobs. The damage can be extensive, both financially and emotionally, and can take years to correct. If you are the victim of identity theft, remember that no matter how frustrating the situation becomes, there is hope.
There are steps, however, that the police cannot take for you. Following is information to get you started.
Report the crime to the police. Usually, you can make a report to the jurisdiction in which you reside, unless you know exactly where the thief obtained your information. Contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert and add a statement that creditors should get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name. Request copies of your credit reports from the credit bureaus. Review the information to make sure no other fraudulent accounts have been established in your name. Obtain new credit reports every few months to monitor the account activity in your name.
Contact all creditors for any accounts that have been illegally established or tampered with. Speak to someone in the security or fraud department. Follow up in writing is required by the Fair Credit Billing Act for resolving credit errors
Contact your bank(s) to make sure that your accounts have not been tampered with or accessed. If necessary, close existing accounts and open new ones with account numbers.
If it appears that your Social Security number has been used, contact the Social Security Administration. This is especially important if someone else obtains employment with your information, because it will affect your tax and earnings liabilities.
File a report with the Federal Trade Commission 1-887-IDTHEFT (www.consumer.gov/idtheft).
Maintain a file of all reports, letters and journal of phone conversations and other appointments related to your case. Keep this file in chronological order.
Identity thieves obtain your information in a number of ways. Knowing how thieves obtain information is the first step in protecting yourself. Outright theft of personal information (stealing wallets or purses) is one obvious way. Others may steal mail, while some will attempt to trick you into providing sensitive information, such as your Social Security number. Still others sift through trash looking for personal information. Take steps that will keep thieves from getting your information.
Don't leave personal property unattended or unsecured. You may be tempted to think that such simple protective measures merely waste time, but remember that it may take years to undo the damage of an identity thief, while it only takes a few seconds more to take your property with you.
Do not provide personal information to anyone you don't know. If you are unsure of the legitimacy of someone requesting sensitive personal information (over the phone or the Internet, for instance), ask for some sort of assurance that they are indeed a representative of that agency or company by requesting they provide you with proof in writing via regular mail, or that you can call them back using the company line and be transferred to their office.
Shred documents that contain personal information before disposing of them. There are local services that can do bulk such shredding, if you don't wish to purchase a personal shredder for your home, or if you have a large amount that must be disposed of.
If you receive unsolicited calls for credit, products or services do not reveal any personal information. Ask to have information about the offer mailed to you so that you may verify the legitimacy of the business. The Federal Trade Commission hosts an excellent web site for consumers. Visit the Consumer.Gov site for more information
Students are prone to identity theft and should be aware of this problem. The United States Department of Education has a website to provide tips and resources for students The web address is: www.ed.gov/misused