Financial Services Blog

Recovering from Identity Theft (Part 2 of 2)

When your identity has been stolen, you will need to contact your credit card companies, your banks, the three major credit bureaus, and local, state, or federal law enforcement authorities. Click here to read part one of this article which looks at the involvement of your credit card companies and banks.

The three major credit bureaus

If your credit cards have been lost or stolen, call the fraud number of any one of the three national credit reporting agencies:

  1. Equifax (888) 766-0008
  2. Experian (888) 397-3742
  3. TransUnion (800) 680-7289

You need to contact only one of the three; the one you call is required to contact the other two.

Next, place a fraud alert on your credit report. If your credit cards have been lost or stolen, and you think you may be victimized by identity theft, you may place an initial fraud alert on your report. If you become a victim of identity theft (an existing account is used fraudulently or the thief opens new credit in your name), you may place an extended fraud alert on your credit report once you file a report with a law enforcement agency.

Once a fraud alert has been placed on your credit report, any user of your report is required to verify your identity before extending any existing credit or issuing new credit in your name. For extended fraud alerts, this verification process must include contacting you personally by telephone at a number you provide for that purpose.

Most states now allow you to "freeze" your credit report. (In the few that don't, the credit bureaus allow state residents to freeze their reports voluntarily.) Once you freeze your report, no one–creditors, insurers, and even potential employers–will be allowed access to your credit report unless you "thaw" it for them.

To freeze your credit report, you must contact all three major credit reporting agencies. In many cases, victims of identity theft are not charged a fee to freeze and/or thaw their credit reports, but the laws vary from state to state. Contact the office of the attorney general in your state for more information.

If you discover fraudulent transactions on your credit reports, contest them through the credit bureaus. Do so in writing, and provide a copy of the identity theft report you file. You should also contest the fraudulent transaction in the same fashion with the merchant, bank, or creditor who reported the information to the credit bureau. Both the credit bureaus and those who provide information to them are responsible for correcting fraudulent information on your credit report, and for taking pains to assure that it doesn't resurface there.

Law enforcement agencies

While the police may not catch the person who stole your identity, you should file a report about the theft with a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency. Once you've filed the report, get a copy of it; you'll need it in order to file an extended fraud alert with the credit bureaus. You may also need to provide it to banks or creditors before they'll forgive any unauthorized transactions.

When you file the report, give the law enforcement officer as much information about the crime as possible: the date and location of the loss or theft, information about any existing accounts that have been compromised, and/or information about any new credit accounts that have been opened fraudulently. Write down the name and contact information of the investigator who took your report, and give it to creditors, banks, or credit bureaus that may need to verify your case.

If the theft of your identity involved any mail tampering (such as stealing credit card offers or statements from your mailbox, or filing a fraudulent change of address form), notify the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. If your driver's license has been used to pass bad checks or perpetrate other forms of fraud, contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles. If you lose your passport, contact the U.S. Department of State. Finally, if your Social Security card is lost or stolen, notify the Social Security Administration.

Follow through

Once resolved, most instances of identity theft stay resolved. But stay alert: Monitor your credit reports regularly, check your monthly statements for any unauthorized activity, and be on the lookout for other signs (such as missing mail and debt collection activity) that someone is pretending to be you.

Have questions about what to do if your identity is stolen? Post a comment below or contact our Financial Services Group at 440-449-6800.

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