Identity Theft - Instructions for Victims
In view of the staggeringly high and increasing number of identity theft cases reported by the Federal Trade Commission each year, we have to protect ourselves and take an active part in helping to resolve these crimes. The following set of guidelines is designed to assist in this process. You will also find a great deal of good advice on the FTC’s web site, http://www.consumer.ftc.gov/topics/privacy-identity, and you can reach the FTC Identity Theft Clearinghouse at 877-438-4338.
As soon as you realize your identity has been stolen, you must act quickly to minimize any damage done to your finances and your personal credit record. Swift action may prevent the thief from making further use of your identity and may make the process of restoring your credit rating easier. Please read this important information to help you proceed effectively.
DOCUMENT YOUR ACTIONS
Maintain a log of the date, time and substance of all personal and telephone conversations regarding the theft. The log should also include the name, title and telephone number of each person to whom you speak.
Keep all documentation regarding the identity theft in one folder or binder, readily accessible and clearly organized. In complex identity theft cases involving credit, banking and loan fraud, an expandable file with multiple compartments may be the best choice. Consider keeping a "journal" of actions in a computer file that can be easily updated and printed when a copy is needed. A well-kept log, file or chronology of your actions will aid the police in stopping the thief.
Follow up each telephone call with a letter that confirms the conversation and any agreed-upon action. You should send all correspondence to businesses that have established fraud accounts by certified mail, return receipt requested, and keep a copy of each letter and each return receipt.
Report the crime immediately to your local police and, if you believe the crime took place in a different locale, to law enforcement officials there. Since the Official Code of Georgia Annotated Section 16-9-121 makes identity theft a felony in Georgia, you should ask the police to issue a police report pursuant to the theft of your personal identification information. Give them as much information as possible and copies of all your documentation. Get a copy of the report for your files. Creditors, banks, credit reporting-agencies and insurance companies may require a police report to verify the crime of identity theft.
Call the fraud unit of any one of the three major credit-reporting agencies to report the theft of your identity. Follow the steps outlined below for protecting your credit history.
PROTECT YOUR CREDIT HISTORY
Identity theft occurs for the same reason most crimes occur: financial gain. Thieves steal identities in order to obtain money or merchandise illegally, usually through the use of fraudulent credit accounts. The thief usually does not intend to repay the loan or pay for the merchandise, and the bad debt is reported to a credit-reporting agency. The three major credit-reporting agencies in the United States are:
P.O. Box 740241
Atlanta, Georgia 30374
To order a credit report: 800-685-1111
Fraud Unit: 800-525-6285
Web site: www.equifax.com
EXPERIAN (formerly TRW)
P.O. Box 2002
Allen, Texas 75013
To order a credit report: 866-200-6020
Fraud Unit: 888-397-3742
All services: 888-397-3742
Web site: www.experian.com
TRANS UNION CORPORATION
P.O. Box 2000
Chester, Pennsylvania 19022
To order a credit report: 800-888-4213
Fraud Unit: 800-680-7289
Web site: www.transunion.com
You should contact one of the credit-reporting agencies to report the theft of your identity and request that a fraud alert be placed in your file. After your report is confirmed, that agency will notify the other two credit-reporting agencies, and within 24 hours a fraud alert will automatically be placed on your credit report at each agency.
You will receive a free copy of each agency’s credit report shortly and will be removed from mailing lists with pre-approved offers of credit and insurance for two years. Potential future creditors will be asked to contact you before approving any new credit. This process will help to prevent an impostor from applying for and receiving more credit in your name.
You should request that a victim's statement be added to each of your credit reports. The statement is a short message to businesses and others who may inquire about your creditworthiness. A suggested statement would reiterate that all future applications for credit should be verified first by calling you personally at your home or work telephone number.
The credit-reporting agencies are required to give you a free copy of your credit report if you have been denied credit, or if you believe that your file contains inaccurate information due to fraud. Furthermore, as of June 1, 2005, all Georgia consumers are eligible to request one free comprehensive disclosure of all the information in their credit file every 12 months from all three national reporting agencies by logging onto a single central source, www.annualcreditreport.com, or by calling the central request line, 877-322-8228. As a Georgia resident, you are also entitled to request for any reason, by writing directly to the credit bureaus, an additional free credit report each year.
Follow up any telephone conversations with the credit-reporting acencies in writing, and check each credit report carefully when you receive it. Look for accounts you have not opened, charges you have not made, inquiries you have not initiated, and defaults and delinquencies you have not caused. Check that your name, address and Social Security number are correct on all reports.
Ask each credit-reporting agency to remove all information that appears in your credit report as a result of the theft of your personal identification and credit information. It may take some time to have all of this erroneous information removed from each of your credit reports.
Also ask each credit-reporting agency to send you a copy of your corrected credit report. Verify that the erroneous information has been removed and that each report contains the fraud alert and victim's statement that you requested. Retain all the information to use as documentation in the event the erroneous information is later resubmitted to the agency.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 50 percent of identity theft victims discover the fraudulent activity by monitoring their own accounts. By detecting the crime early, you improve your chances of recovering your good name, your credit standing and your money.
CONTACT YOUR CREDITORS
You may wish to call each of your current credit card issuers to report that you are the victim of identity theft. Ask each one about the status of your account. Ask if the card issuer has received any unauthorized charges, a change-of-address request, or a request for additional or replacement credit cards. If so, instruct the card issuer not to honor any requests regarding your card without written authorization. Ask each credit card issuer to cancel your card and provide a replacement card with a new account number.
Immediately follow up each telephone call with a letter that confirms the conversation and the action the credit card issuer has agreed to take. Keep a copy of the letter.
Your liability for unauthorized use of a credit card cannot be more than $50 by federal law. Many creditors will waive the $50 if the victim provides documentation indicating identity theft (such as a police report).
Call each credit-card issuer or creditor who has opened a new account that you did not authorize or apply for, as listed in your credit reports. Explain that you are the victim of identity theft, and ask each issuer and creditor to close the account immediately. Some credit card issuers and creditors may ask you to sign an affidavit or to submit a copy of the police report on the theft of your personal identification information. Ask each issuer and creditor to inform each credit-reporting agency that the account was opened fraudulently and has been closed.
Pay particular attention to the inquiry section of the credit report. This section may give you clues as to which companies may be considering a credit application falsely submitted in your name. Inquiries are usually posted to your credit report before the actual false accounts appear and may represent the most current fraudulent activity.
CONTACT YOUR BANK
If your bank account information or checks have been stolen, or if a fraudulent bank account has been opened using your identification information, notify the bank involved immediately.
Close your legitimate bank accounts and request new account numbers. Ask your bank to honor only the outstanding checks you can verify you wrote. Or, contact companies with whom you have recently done business to explain why your check will not be honored. Offer to replace the payment immediately with a money order or a check from your new account.
Ask the bank to use a new unique identifier as a password or security feature for your accounts. Do not use your mother's maiden name, since this information is available in public records. Get a new ATM card and PIN. Do not use your old password or PIN. Destroy all your old checks and do not use them.
CHECK VERIFICATION COMPANIES
Banks and other businesses use check verification companies to authorize check cashing and checking account privileges. Due to the actions of an identity thief, a merchant may refuse to take a victim's check on the advice of a check verification company. The major check verification companies in the United States are:
|Certegy (division of Equifax)||800-437-5120|
|International Check Services||800-526-5380|
If a merchant refuses your check and refers you to a check verification company, call the check verification company and explain that you are the victim of identity theft. If you cannot open a checking account because of the thief’s activities, call ChexSystems, which is used by a majority of banks to verify applicants for new accounts.
UTILITIES AND SERVICES
Notify your gas, electric, water, cable and trash utilities that you are the victim of identity theft, and alert them to the possibility that the thief may try to establish new accounts using your identification information. Give similar notice to the providers of your local, long-distance and cellular telephone service. Ask the utility and telephone services to use a new unique identifier for your accounts. Again, do not use your mother's maiden name, since this information is available in public records. If your long-distance calling card or PIN has been stolen, cancel them and obtain a new account number and PIN.
FORMS OF IDENTIFICATION
If you have lost your driver's license, or if you suspect that someone may be using your driver's license number or a license fraudulently obtained in your name, contact your local Driver’s License office (listed under "State Government" in your telephone directory). In Georgia, you should get in touch with the Georgia Department of Driver Services (please see “Agency Information” below to contact the DDS or other state or federal agencies).
If your Social Security number has become associated with dishonored checks and bad credit as a result of identity fraud, it is possible in extreme cases to obtain a new Social Security number. In order to do so, your situation must fit the Social Security Administration's criteria for issuing a second Social Security number. Contact the Social Security Administration for these specific criteria.
If you suspect that someone else is using your Social Security number for employment purposes, request a copy of your Social Security Earnings and Benefits Statement. If the statement confirms this fraudulent use of your Social Security number, contact the Social Security Administration.
Banks, creditors and government entities may ask you to fill out fraud affidavits to be notarized or signed under penalty of perjury. In Georgia, perjury and filing a false report of a crime are felonies.
If you suspect that an identity thief has stolen your mail or has filed a change-of-address request in your name, notify your local Postal Inspector. Consider opening a post office box instead of having mail delivered to your mailbox.
If you have a passport, notify your local passport office that the identity thief may apply for a new passport using your identity.
The actions of a credit identity thief sometimes result in civil or criminal judgments being entered against the victim. If you are a victim of credit identity theft and have had an erroneous civil or criminal judgment entered against you, you should consult an attorney immediately about vacating the judgment.
To further assure at least a two-year moratorium on pre-approved credit card offers and other solicitations you receive, you can call 888-5-OPT-OUT toll-free and request that the major credit-reporting companies remove your name and address from any and all marketing mailing lists and promotions. Pre-approved credit card offers stolen from the mail often lead to identity theft.
Occasionally, a victim of credit identity theft may encounter a creditor or credit-reporting agency that unreasonably refuses to cooperate as the victim seeks to restore his or her credit standing. You may notify a creditor that you are the victim of credit identity theft and may provide the creditor appropriate documentation, but the creditor continues to send reports of debts incurred by the thief to the credit-reporting agencies.
You may provide a credit-reporting agency appropriate documentation and request that the erroneous information be removed from your credit report, but the credit-reporting agency does not remove the erroneous information.
If you are a victim of identity theft and you believe that a creditor or a credit-reporting agency unreasonably or carelessly continues to report erroneous information that is the result of the theft of your personal identification and credit information, consider seeking assistance from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), which administers the Fair Credit Reporting Act. (See “Agency Information” below.) You may also consider contacting a private attorney to discuss a private action for potential violations of the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
If a debt collector demands that you pay a debt incurred by an identity thief, you should explain why you do not owe the debt and should send the debt collector a follow-up letter. You should consult an attorney immediately if you receive demands to pay a debt caused by an identity thief, or if you receive notice of a legal action based on debts incurred by a thief. Debt collectors, with limited exceptions, are required to comply with the federal Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Your first contact to report identity theft should be your local police or sheriff’s department. The following agencies may also assist victims of identity theft:
Federal Trade Commission
The FTC oversees the operation of credit bureaus, maintains an identity theft database or clearinghouse, and provides assistance for identity theft victims. You can find a great deal of helpful information on its web site, including the text of the Fair Credit Reporting Act (under Consumer Information/ Laws/ Credit) and a complaint form that can be transmitted to the FTC via the Internet.
Identity Theft Clearinghouse Hotline: 877-IDTHEFT
Consumer Response Center: 202-FTC-HELP or 202-382-4357
Web sites: www.ftc.gov/idtheft
U.S. Postal Service
Call 800-275-8777 to obtain the phone number of the nearest Postal Inspector, who can assist in the investigation of identity theft involving the U.S. Mail.
Web site: www.usps.gov/postalinspectors/
U.S. Social Security Administration
Georgia Department of Driver Services
Contact this agency immediately only if your Georgia driver’s license has been stolen:
Georgia Department of Driver Services
P.O. Box 80447
Conyers, Georgia 30013
Web site: www.dds.ga.gov