Recovering from Identity Theft

What It Is

What is identity theft?

Identity theft is a serious crime. Identity theft happens when someone uses information about you without your permission. They could use your:

  • name and address
  • credit card or bank account numbers
  • Social Security number
  • medical insurance account numbers

How will I know if my identity was stolen?

Here are ways you can tell that someone is using your information:

  • you see withdrawals from your bank account that you cannot explain
  • you do not get your bills or other mail
  • you get medical bills for services you did not use
  • debt collectors call you about debts that are not yours
  • you find strange accounts or charges on your credit report
  • the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) says you earned income from an employer you do not work for

Who creates my credit report?

A credit reporting company creates your credit report.  That company gathers information about you and your credit history. 

There are three main credit reporting companies:

  • Equifax
  • Experian
  • Transunion

What is a fraud alert?

A fraud alert tells businesses that they must contact you before they give someone credit in your name. A fraud alert protects your credit.

There are a few kinds of fraud alerts:

  • Initial fraud alert – lasts for 90 days. Use this if you think someone stole your identity.
  • Extended fraud alert – lasts for seven years. Use this if you know someone stole your identity.
  • Active duty alert – lasts up to one year. Use this if you are in the military and deployed.

What is an Identity Theft Report?

An Identity Theft Report is made from information you give the government and the police. It is your statement of what happened. It also lists what accounts are not yours and what charges you did not make.

The Identity Theft Report helps you fix your bills and your credit report. Your Identity Theft Report tells your creditors that you should not have to pay for what the identity thief spent.

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What To Know

What is most important when someone steals my identity?

It is very important to act fast:

  • Call one of the three credit reporting companies. Ask for an initial fraud alert. The initial fraud alert lasts for 90 days.
  • Ask all three credit reporting companies for a credit report. If your identity was stolen, the company must give you a free report.
  • Create an Identity Theft Report. The Identity Theft Report helps prove that you are a victim of a crime. The report helps you fix your credit report and settle your accounts.

Why is it important to do these three things so fast?

If you wait, the identity thief has more time to cheat you. Here is how these three steps help you:

  • An initial fraud alert helps stop anyone who tries to open a credit account using your information.
  • You need copies of your three credit reports. Your credit reports let you see if the thief opened other accounts in your name. You also can see if the thief bought things with your credit cards.
  • An Identity Theft Report helps you correct your credit report and your accounts. The report also can stop people from trying to make you pay for money the identity thief spent.

How do I create my Identity Theft Report?

Here is how to create your Identity Theft Report:

  • Complain to the FTC. When you finish, print a copy of the complaint. It will be called an Identity Theft Affidavit. An affidavit means you swear that everything in the report is true.
  • File a police report about the identity theft. Bring your Identity Theft Affidavit with you to the police. It will help them write the police report. Get a copy of the police report or the number of the police report.
  • Attach your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report. Now you have an Identity Theft Report.identity theft affidavit plus police report equals identity theft report

What do I do next?

There is a lot to think about and do. Recovering from identity theft can take time. It helps to write things down. 

Set up a file system to store:

  • the copies of your documents about the identity theft
  • letters that you send or get
  • calls that you make or get

What kinds of files should I keep?

Keep records of the letters you send or get and the conversations you have. You might need the records to prove that you already fixed something.

  • Save copies of your papers, receipts, and account statements
  • Keep a list of the companies you called and when you called them. Write the name of the person you spoke with, what you asked them to do, and what they agreed to do
  • Send a letter to the people you talked to. In your letter, confirm what they will do

When you mail things, ask for a return receipt. This means you will get a receipt in the mail. This is proof that you sent the letter and the company got it.

What happens when my initial fraud alert ends?

When you know your identity was stolen, you can put an extended fraud alert on your credit report. An extended fraud alert is good for seven years. 

To ask for an extended fraud alert, contact each credit reporting company. You might have to give them a copy of your Identity Theft Report. Never send the original document. Send a copy.

How do I fix the mistakes in my credit report?

Write a letter to the three credit reporting companies. Get the mailing address when you call the fraud departments of each credit reporting company.

How do I fix the mistakes on my bills?

To correct your existing accounts:

  • Send a letter to each business that reported a charge you did not make
  • Use the address they tell you to use for “disputes”
  • Change the passwords and PINs on your accounts

How do I close accounts that I did not open?

  • Send a letter to each business that opened an account
  • Include a copy of your Identity Theft Report or the forms that they use

What should I say in these letters?

Your letter should:

  • explain that you are an identity theft victim
  • list the mistakes
  • tell why you disagree with the charges
  • include any proof that you did not make the charges or open the account
  • ask them to remove the fraudulent information or close the account

Ask the company to send you a letter that says:

  • the charge is removed from the account or the account is closed
  • the charge is removed from your credit report
  • you are not responsible for the charge
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What To Do

If someone stole your identity, act fast. Fast action can help reduce the damage identity theft can cause.

What should I do if a thief uses my information?

Step 1: Place an initial fraud alert on your three credit reports 

  • Call any one of the three credit reporting companies.  That company must tell the other two.

    Fraud departments of the credit reporting companies:

    • Equifax                       1-800-525-6285
    • Experian                     1-888-397-3742
    • Transunion                 1-800-680-7289

Step 2:  Order your credit reports

  • Call all three credit reporting companies and order your credit report from each.  Identity theft victims can get the reports for free.  
  • You might know that some of your accounts are affected by identity theft.  Contact those accounts now.  Talk to someone in the fraud department of the company.  Then write the company a letter.

Step 3: Create an Identity Theft Report

  • Submit a complaint to the FTC. You can call or do it online.

    By phone: Call 1-877-438-4338 (1-866-653-4261 TTY)

    • talk to a counselor. The counselor will ask questions to gather information about your complaint
    • ask the counselor to email you a link so you can print your complaint. Your completed complaint is called the “Identity Theft Affidavit”
    • go online to save or print your Identity Theft Affidavit.

    Online: Go to ftc.gov/complaint

    • Type your information into the online form, following the prompts on every screen.
    • Review all the information you typed
    • Click the button to submit your complaint. Your submitted complaint is called an “Identity Theft Affidavit”
    • Save the complaint reference number
    • Click the link to save the Identity Theft Affidavit to your computer
    • Print your Identity Theft Affidavit.  Keep it in a safe place
  • File a police report.  Take your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit with you
    • Get a copy of the police report or the number of the police report
  • Attach your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report. That is your Identity Theft Report. Keep it in a safe place
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