If you have been a victim of identity theft, we’re sorry.
But now you need to start fighting back.
This page is one place to start.
So, your identity has been compromised — now what?
If someone has illegally used your name or personal information for their financial gain, there are some steps you should take.
First, unfortunately, it’s probably going to end up being your responsibility to lead this fight.
Second, you can do it. It will just take some time and effort.
Third, there are people and resources that can help you.
Alright, if you’re sitting comfortably, then let’s begin.
1. Get Started Now
If your identity has been stolen, the best first step is to get started quickly. Getting started fast may help to limit any damage. It will also show good faith on your behalf in case that is questioned sometime in the future.
2. Get Organized
Get yourself organized before you get started. Create a way of keeping track of everyone you contact by email, phone or postal mail. Record the dates, times and names of people you contact.
As you go through this process, be sure to send postal mail letters by certified mail so that you can get a return receipt of proof of delivery. Only send copies of your reports and other documents — don’t send the originals. Also make sure you make a copy of the letter you are sending.
3. Visit the Credit Agencies
Call or visit the website of either one of the three big credit bureaus and have them put an initial fraud alert on your record. You will not need to contact all three. These three services share fraud alert information with each other.
This fraud alert will make it more difficult for a company to issue credit or open new accounts in your name. It will require that a business more completely verify your identity before they give you credit. This usually results in the company contacting you by phone or mail to verify your information and intent. So be sure that the credit reporting agency has your current contact details.
This fraud alert will stay on your report for 90 days. If your situation is not resolved by then, you can renew it for an additional 90 days.
At the same time you are contacting them, you can obtain a free copy of your personal credit report from them.
Alternatively, you could consider putting a credit freeze on your account at each of the credit reporting agencies. A freeze is different in that it prevents any potential creditor from even seeing your credit report, which will make it unlikely that anyone would issue any new credit in your name.
There can be small fees involved with either placing or lifting a credit freeze — and it varies by state and agency or other factors, such as whether you have filed a police report or not.
Once you have the freeze in place, you can contact the reporting agency to have it lifted either permanently or temporarily in order for you to do anything that needs a company to review your credit report, such as applying for a mortgage, renting an apartment or opening some other type of financial account.
Credit freezes are not permanent and are determined by state law. If you’re interested, your state’s attorney general’s office can provide you with the details.
Here are the contact numbers for the reporting agencies:
4. File a Complaint with the FTC
Go to the Federal Trade Commission (which is this country’s consumer protection agency) website — www.FTC.gov/complaint — and file a complaint. If you don’t want to do it online (and you aren’t in a hurry), you could call their hotline at 1-877-438-4338. Submitting an official complaint will result in producing an FTC Identity Theft Affidavit and a complaint reference number which you will need to know in the future in order to update your complaint. Be sure to print out your affidavit.
5. Go See the Police
Go to your local police station and file a report. Bring your affidavit and any other necessary documents, including your proof of identity such as a government-issued photo ID and other proof of identity or address.
In a few instances, your local police may not want to fill out such a report. If this happens, they should be able to direct you to where you can do it, which may be a different station, a sheriff’s department office or state police office.
Once you have completed your report, make sure you write down the police report number. The combination of your affidavit with the police report will make what they call your Identity Theft Report.
6. Consider an Extended Fraud Alert
Since the credit reporting agency initial fraud alert lasts for just 90 days, if you have completed your Identity Theft Report, you can place an Extended Fraud Alert on your credit file.
This extended alert can be placed free of charge at each of the three reporting agencies. It will remain in effect for seven years. It comes with two additional benefits. First, you can get two free credit reports from that agency each year. Second, those agencies will take your name off of the prescreened credit offers marketing list for up to five years.
7. Write to Any Businesses Involved
Contact any of the businesses where you have had an account that was tampered with. If you speak with a business by phone, follow it up with a letter that summarizes what you discussed on the phone. Close or change any of your accounts that you know were tampered with or opened without your permission.
8. Review and Dispute Errors With the Credit Reporting Agencies and Creditors
When you find accounts that aren’t yours, unusual transactions or mistakes on your credit report, you need to contact both the credit reporting agencies and the business that the account belongs to.
Start by contacting the three credit reporting companies if each of them has inaccurate reports.
Send each one a letter that explains that you have been a victim of identity theft and list which items in their report you disagree with. Include copies of statements and other documents that show the error and prove that it is inaccurate. Ask them to remove the incorrect information.
The reporting agencies will send a copy of your information to each of the businesses you mention in your letter. Each business is required to look into the matter and respond within 30 days.
The business will reply back to the agency saying that they did find an error, or that they still believe the information is correct.
If they respond by saying that they did find an error, the agency should update and correct your file. But if the business responds by saying that they could not detect an error, then the item will go back on your credit report.
Either way, the credit agency will send you a letter informing you of the result.
You should also get in touch with each business that has incorrect charges on your account or that shows an account opened in your name that isn’t really yours.
If you have an account that has incorrect charges on it, contact that company’s fraud department, inform them that you are an identity theft victim and find out how they like to have their charge disputes handled. If the business has a special form they want you to fill out, you should use that form.
Send your letter, form and copies of other documents that show and prove the errors to the company’s preferred address. Include a copy of your identity theft report and the portion of your credit report that pertains to them. Respectfully ask that the company investigate your complaint, remove the charge and other incorrect details and follow up with you with a letter letting you know what it determined.
If there was an account opened in your name that isn’t really yours, the process is similar.
Contact that company’s fraud department and find out how they prefer to have an identity theft victim dispute and close an account. They may want you simply write to them, or they may have a special form they want you to fill out and send in.
Either way, you will be sending them details explaining and proving that the fraudulent account is not yours. Include copies of your Identity Theft Report (unless they specify that they don’t need it) and copies of all the documentation you need to prove your case.
Respectfully ask the company to close this account and reply back with a letter stating that they have determined that this account wasn’t yours and you aren’t liable for it. Plus, ask them to correct this entry on your credit report.
You can also ask for copies of any documents the person used to open that new account. Typical documents may include a copy of the account application with the applicant’s signature.
9. Block Credit Report Errors
If you’re unsuccessful with getting a business to remove inaccurate information from your credit report, you can work to at least block the information from showing up on your credit report.
You will need to write the company’s fraud department. You should include:
– Proof of your identity.
– Copies of your Identity Theft Report and the section of your credit report that pertains to this company.
– Ask them to block this information from being shared with the credit reporting agencies. Include a detailed explanation, with any supporting documentation you may have, about why this transaction or account does not belong to you.
Once the company has received your blocking request, it is supposed to stop reporting this information to the reporting agencies. However, the company can still regard the account and debt as legitimate and receivable. They can try to collect on the debt or assign it to a collection agency who will then also attempt to collect on it.
In order to prevent a company from trying to collect on a wrongful debt or selling or transferring it to a collection agency, you need to block the information at the credit reporting agency level.
In order to do this, you need to write to each credit reporting service and include the following:
– Proof of your identity.
– A copy of your Identity Theft Report.
– A detailed explanation of which information on their report is incorrect. State that this transaction or account was not something you approved or had any knowledge of and that it resulted from a case of identity theft.
– Directly request to have this specific information blocked from your report.
The agency can decide to either accept or reject your request. If they accept it, they will communicate with the business that submitted the information to them. Once they contact the business, the business is supposed to stop reporting this info to the credit reporting agencies and refrain from attempting to collect the debt (or sell it to a collection agency).
If they reject you request, they will do so by asking you for more proof about your case. Follow any directions the agency gives you in their response. If they continue to reject your request, you can re-submit your request and try again.
These agencies are required by law to block identity theft transactions from appearing on someone’s report, but they can require that the application submit a certain amount of proof in order to do so.
10. Tackle Any IRS Issues
If your situation has income tax implications, or if your social security number is involved, complete the IRS Identity Theft Affidavit, which is IRS Form 14039. Make sure you respond to any notice or correspondence you receive from the IRS. Continue to file your usual returns and pay any legitimate and actual taxes you may owe.
The IRS moves along at its own pace. It’s a huge organization with tremendous responsibilities. You will not get immediate responses from them. But they are there to help and they don’t want you to pay any tax which you are not actually liable for. They do have a resolution department which tries to help individuals who have pending cases. They call it the Identity Protection Specialized Unit and they have a phone number of 1-800-908-4490.