In 2010, over 8 million Americans became victims of identity theft. Often times, we will not even know we are victims until applying for a loan or check our credit report. The thieves are becoming very creative in their ways. It is up to us to become educated on the different tactics of identity theft and what actions we can take to prevent such a crime.
The process to get your identity back can take years to straighten out if it is not caught right away. This can be a burden on your personal financial situation and end up in ugly debt collection problems.
However, if you have already become a victim of identity theft, apply the following steps to regain your identity and preventing further damage.
1) File a police report
Even though the police probably won’t find and arrest the criminal, you need this report to restore your good name. If the thief was a friend or family member you don’t want to see harmed, keep in mind that filing a report is not the same as pressing charges. It’s simply the only way to prove you aren’t secretly benefiting from the identity theft.
2) Alert the credit agencies
The three major reporting agencies — Equifax, Experian and Trans Union — each have their own forms. Tell them all as soon as possible that you want a “fraud alert” on your file, which will warn existing and potential new creditors that your identity has been stolen. Also request a “credit freeze” or “security freeze” on your file. If the thief tries to open new credit accounts using your name, this will help prevent that.
3) Order your credit report
Look for accounts you didn’t open, recent report access requests from companies you never asked for credit, and any false addresses. Dispute a credit report immediately, alerting them that the information is wrong and almost certainly fraudulent. Enclose a copy of the police report to prove your point.
4) Obtain an identity theft affidavit
Many businesses and creditors accept the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft affidavit, which you can find at their www.ftc.gov website. This notarized document offers proof that you were the victim of identity theft, and should be obtained as quickly as possible.
5) Contact companies who opened false accounts
These creditors have been victimized as well, and need you to advise them that any accounts recently opened in your name are fraudulent because you didn’t open them. You can then close the account and remove the credit report from your file. If they ask you for an identity theft affidavit, provide the one you just obtained. If they won’t accept such proof, ask what they require and provide that.
6) Change your PINs and passwords
Whoever stole your identity may have found any passwords and personal identification numbers (PINs) you use. While you should change those regularly in any case, it’s all the more important to change them now, to avoid giving the thief access to your financial information and other websites that require access protection.
7) Seek professional assistance
Identity theft victims often feel betrayed, frustrated, hurt and angry, and getting help from a counselor or psychologist can be valuable in dealing with those feelings. In addition to the emotional stress, financial stress can be a significant problem, and it’s helpful to contact the experts at agencies designed for protecting consumer rights.
Identity theft can cause much pain and stress – but it doesn’t have to be crippling! Follow these steps to get yourself back on your feet financially and reclaim your identity.
Larry P. Smith & Associates, a Chicago Law Firm, focus on consumer rights protection. If you are having difficulties with bankruptcy, identity theft, debt collection or consumer fraud, request a free case review with Larry P. Smith & Associates.