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Identity theft victims: steps to take immediately

Someone in Nigeria is using your bank account to buy computers on eBay. Looks like you're the latest victim of identity theft. If this happens to you, take the following four steps as soon as possible, and keep records of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.

1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports and review your credit reports regularly. Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You need to contact only one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too. Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374
Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

 

Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order free copies of your credit reports. If you ask, only the last four digits of your SSN will appear on your credit reports. Once you get your reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain. Check information like your SSN, address(es), name or initials, and employers, and make sure they are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, contact the consumer reporting companies to get it removed. Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Call and speak to someone in the security or fraud department of each company. Follow up in writing, and include copies (not originals) of supporting documents. It's important to notify credit card companies and banks in writing. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep a file of your correspondence and enclosures.

When you open new accounts, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or on fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the forms to dispute those transactions. For charges and debits on existing accounts, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. If the company doesn't have special forms, write a letter to dispute the fraudulent charges or debits. In either case, write to the company at the address given for �billing inquiries, not the address for sending your payments. For new unauthorized accounts, ask if the company accepts the ID Theft Affidavit. If not, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. If the company already has reported these accounts or debts on your credit report, dispute this fraudulent information.

Once you have resolved your identity theft dispute with the company, ask for a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed accounts and has discharged the fraudulent debts. This letter is your best proof if errors relating to this account reappear on your credit report or you are contacted again about the fraudulent debt.

3. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. Then, get a copy of the police report, or at the very least the number of the report. It can help you deal with creditors who need proof of the crime. If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a Miscellaneous Incidents report, or try another jurisdiction like your state police. You also can check with your state Attorney General's office to find out if state law requires the police to take reports for identity theft. Check the Blue Pages of your telephone directory for the phone number or check www.naag.org for a list of state Attorneys General.

4. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission. By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victims' complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.

You can file a complaint online at www.consumer.gov/idtheft or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TDD: 202-326-2502. You can also write: Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.

Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.

You also should get a copy of the FTC publication, Take Charge: Fighting Back Against Identity Theft, a comprehensive guide that describes what to do, your legal rights, how to handle specific problems you may encounter on the way to clearing your name, and what to watch for in the future. The guide also includes the ID Theft Affidavit to help you report information to many companies. For more information, see www.consumer.gov/idtheft.

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