February 5, 2020

Identity Theft

Identity theft occurs when someone steals your personal information and uses it without your knowledge or permission. This crime continues to impact and harm the good name and credit of thousands of people each year.

If you suspect someone has stolen your identity, the key is to act quickly to minimize the damage.

Clearing your name and erasing the effects of identity theft can be a lengthy and difficult process, often times, it may take months or even years.

How do they get my information? Identity thieves are very resourceful. Many go about it the “old fashioned” way and dumpster dive; that is, they rummage through your garbage or through the trash of medical offices, businesses and government offices for example.

They may also attempt to gain your trust by pretending to represent a known institution and try to trick you into releasing information via email or by phone.

What do they do with my information? One of the first things an ID thief may do is to change your address to buy some time. They can then drain your bank account, run up charges on your credit cards, open new accounts (loans, utilities, etc.), obtain medical treatment, file a tax return to get a refund and more.

What are clues that my identity has been stolen?

  • Unexplained bank account withdrawals

  • Merchants refuse your checks

  • Debt collectors calling about bills that aren’t yours

  • Questionable items on your credit report

  • Health claims denied because you reached benefit limits

  • Notice of compromised info due to a data breach

  • Medical providers billing you for services/treatment you did not use

  • You are arrested for a crime someone else committed in your name

What should I do if I don’t see any fraudulent transactions or other problems but I know my information has been lost or stolen?

  • Contact the credit reporting agencies and place an initial fraud alert on your credit file.
    • Equifax 1-800-525-6285
    • Experian 1-888-397-3742
    • TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
  • Monitor your bank and other account statements for unusual activity
  • Exercise your right to a free copy of your credit reports

What do I do if I think (or know) someone has misused my personal or financial information?

  • Call one of the companies listed above and ask them to place an initial fraud alert (this company is required to contact the other two)
  • This alert is in effect for 90 days and allows you to order 1 free copy of your credit report from each agency
  • Consider a credit freeze which blocks potential creditors from obtaining your credit report. This makes it unlikely a thief can open new accounts in your name. This can be lifted if a business, lender or employer legitimately needs access
  • Create an Identity Theft Report
  • Submit a complaint to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). When you are finished writing all of the details, print a copy as it will print as an Identity Theft Affidavit
  • File a police report (bring the Affidavit with you); obtain a copy of the police report or report number
  • Attach your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report to make an Identity Theft Report.

Next Steps

  • Review your credit reports
  • If you find mistakes or accounts you didn’t open, file a dispute online or in writing with each of the 3 credit reporting agencies
  • File a dispute with the fraud department of the business reporting the fraudulent
  • transaction(s)
  • File a dispute with the fraud department of each business that reported a new account opened in your name by an identity thief
  • Get copies of documents used by the thief to open the account or make purchases in your name (you can do this yourself or through law enforcement). You can find sample request letters at www.ftc.gov/idtheft
  • File disputes with your bank for any unauthorized or fraudulent ATM or Debit card transactions as soon as you are aware (there are important timing limits that will impact the amount of money for which you may be liable—report as soon as you know!)
  • Report any stolen or altered checks to your financial institution as soon as you are made aware
  • Report lost/stolen credit cards and file any disputes if applicable

Monitor Progress

  • Keep a log of all calls made; recording date, time, name and number of every contact
  • Prepare your questions before calling; document your answers
  • Send any letters via certified mail with return receipt
  • Keep all originals; send copies of any documents required
  • Make a list of deadlines when you must file requests, the time a company has to respond to you and when/if you must send follow up communication