If you are a victim of identity theft, you need to act quickly to limit the damage. There are 3 immediate steps you should take.
First, place a fraud alert on your credit reports. Call 1 of the credit reporting companies and tell them to put an initial fraud alert on your account. The company you call is required to tell the other companies about your alert. The initial alert will remain on your report for 90 days. You are then entitled to order 1 free copy of your credit report from each of the credit reporting agencies. The credit reporting agencies can be contacted as follows:
Equifax : 1-800-525-6285
Ask each company for the email or postal mail address for sending dispute or blocking requests.
You may also want to consider requesting a credit freeze. This means potential creditors cannot get your report. However, if you want a lender, business or employer to review your credit report, you must contact the credit reporting company to remove the freeze. The freeze can be removed temporarily or permanently. Pennsylvania residents who are victimized by identify theft can place a security freeze with the credit reporting companies free of charge. The freeze will automatically be lifted for Pennsylvania residents after 7 years. Unlike placing a fraud alert, you will need to contact each credit reporting company.
The second step is to order your credit reports. Once you place your initial fraud alert, the credit reporting company should explain your rights and how you can go about getting a copy of your credit report. Phone each credit reporting company explaining you placed an initial fraud alert. Order your free copy of your credit report. Ask each company to show only the last 4 digits of your Social Security number on your report. If you know which of your accounts is erroneous, contact the business that reported the information. Ask to speak with someone in the fraud department. Make sure you follow up in writing sending your letters by certified mail return receipt requested.
The third step is creating an identity theft report. You can use the report to get fraudulent information off of your credit report, stop debt collectors who are harassing you over the fraudulent account, place an extended fraud alert on your credit report and get information from companies about the fraudulent accounts You must complete 3 steps to create the identity theft report. First, complete the Federal Trade Commission online complaint form. You can do this on the FTC’s website. Save the complaint reference number that appears after you submit your information. You will need this number to update your complaint online or by phone. Or you can complete this process by calling the FTC at 1-877-438-4338 / 1-866-653-4261 (TTY). After completing the complaint, print a copy. This is your Identity Theft Affidavit. Second, file a police report and get a copy of the report or the report number. Bring your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit when you file your police report. If the police won’t take a report about identify theft, ask if you can file a “miscellaneous incidents” report, or go to a different police station, the sheriff’s department, state police or federal authority. Three, attach your FTC Identity Theft Affidavit to your police report. This is your Identify Theft Report.
After creating an Identity Theft Report, you may want to consider placing an extended fraud alert. It will remain on your report for 7 years. When you place the extended alert, you can get 2 free credit reports within 12 months from each of the 3 credit bureaus and the credit reporting companies must take your name off marketing lists for prescreened credit offers for 5 years, unless you tell them to put your name back on the list. When placing the extended fraud alert, you need to contact each credit reporting company. Placing the extended fraud alert is free.
After completing the initial 3 steps, your next step is to review your credit reports. If you see errors on your report, send certified return receipt letters to the 3 credit bureaus and copy the fraud department of each business that reported the erroneous account information. If you have your Identity Theft Report, ask the credit bureaus and business to block the erroneous information from appearing on your report. The credit bureaus must block transactions and accounts if you are a victim of identity theft. If the credit reporting company accepts your Identity Theft Report, it must block the fraudulent information from your credit report within 4 business days and tell the business that sent the information about the block. If the credit reporting company rejects your Identity Theft Report, it can take 5 days to ask you for more proof of the identity theft. It has 15 more days to work with you to get the information, and 5 days to review the information you send in. It may reject any information you send after 15 days. It must tell you if it won’t block information. As to removal of the fraudulent information, after the credit bureau notifies the business of your dispute, it has 30 days to investigate and respond to the credit reporting company. You are supposed to receive a letter from the credit bureau with the results.
You should also request copies of documents relating to the identity theft. In order to do this, contact the business that has the records. Ask for copies of documents the thief used to open new accounts or charge purchases in your name. The business must send you free copies of the records within 30 days after your request.
If you are contacted by a debt collector, send a certified return receipt letter advising of the identity theft. Enclose a copy of your Identity Theft Report. Tell the collector to stop communicating with you.
To help reduce your risk of identity theft you should review your credit reports. You have the right to get a free copy of your report every 12 months from Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Ordering 1 free report from one of the bureaus every 4 months is a good idea. You can get your free credit report at www.annualcreditreport.com or by calling 1-877-322-8228. I recommend calling. If you use the website, I recommend using the mail-in form as opposed to ordering online.