Identity theft is a crime that occurs when someone wrongfully uses fraud and deception to obtain and use another person’s identifying information, such as their name, Social Security number (SSN) or credit card number. Identity theft can occur in a large variety of ways. Your wallet or purse could get snatched on the street, someone could memorize identifying information about you, or some unscrupulous individual at a company that has access to your information could decide to steal it. However it happens, it’s important that you respond to incidents of identity theft without delay.
Signs of Identity Theft.
The sooner you catch an identity theft, the sooner you can prevent further loss. Contact your creditors immediately if you see any of these telltale signs:
- An identity thief could use your billing information to change your billing address. Be wary if your bills fail to arrive on time.
- You receive unexpected credit cards or account statements.
- You are denied credit for no discernible reason. An identity thief may be using your credit cards and not paying off the debt, causing your credit to plummet.
- You receive calls or letters about purchases you did not make. Also look for strange line items on your credit card statements.
- You notice inaccuracies or unauthorized transactions on your credit reports.
- You may also receive a call from your credit card company asking if you made any outstanding charges or large purchases at an unusual location. An identity thief can take and use your information even if they don’t take your physical card.
Steps to Take if You Are a Victim of Identity Theft.
Once you’ve developed a suspicion that an identity theft has occurred, it’s time to try and nullify the effects. Again, speed is very important. The longer you wait to act, the more chances the identity thief will have to dig you into a hole.
- Contact any company with which you have a credit card. If you know of any, also contact any other companies with which the identity thief may have opened an account. For the best results, call the companies as well as write to them. Credit card companies are probably familiar with identity theft issues, so some of them may have methods in place to streamline the process.
- Contact your bank and close accounts which with the identity thief has tampered. Once you’ve done that, open new accounts with different password protections.
- Contact the fraud departments of the major credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian and TransUnion) and request that a fraud alert be placed on your credit file. With a fraud alert in place, these companies will call you before making any changes to your accounts or opening new ones.
- Get copies of your credit reports from the companies listed above and review them. After the problems have been solved, get new reports and review them again to make sure the suspicious activity has stopped.
- File a police report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place. When filling out the report, include information about when and where the theft occurred, anyone you suspect may have committed the theft, and the names of your creditors.
- In addition to filing a police report, also file an Identity Theft Report with consumer reporting agencies. This report should contain the same information included in the police report along with any other information for which the agency asks.
- If the US Mail is involved, call your nearest Postal Inspection Service office or report identity theft on-line using the US Postal Inspection Service Identity Theft Complaint Form.
- If you suspect that someone else is using your SSN for work purposes, you should contact the Social Security Administration’s Fraud Hotline to report the problem.
- If your personal checks have been lost, stolen or misused, stop payment and notify your bank immediately.
- Contact your insurance agent; your homeowner’s policy may cover costs related to an identity theft, and provide support services.
Punishment for Identity Thieves
Identity Theft is a federal crime under the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998. That act names the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) as a central hub for listening to complaints about identity theft and providing victims with resources. If you have become such a victim, get in touch with the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 or use the FTC’s online ID Theft Complaint form.