Get Your Own Identity! What to do when Yours is Stolen

by Nora Dunn on 9 January 2008 comments
Photo: D70focus

Identity theft is considered an increasing national epidemic, being the fastest growing crime in the nation according to the Federal Trade Commission. And until you discover that somebody else has stolen your identity and take certain corrective measures, your credit, banking, and even your income taxes can be seriously compromised.

Here's what to do in order to save your identity from further abuse if you discover it is stolen:

File a Police Report

This should be done immediately, and get lots of copies of the report, as you'll need to distribute it to banks, creditors, credit bureaus, social security admin, and possibly a host of other agencies and services you use and want to save.

Contact Social Security

You'll want to discover if your social security number has been used fraudulently. Visit them here.

Bank Accounts

You'll need to inform your bank of the identity theft, and likely will have to close your accounts and open new ones. (Copies of the police report readily available will help to expedite this process. Banks are getting pretty good at it by now). Obviously any new accounts opened should have completely different PIN codes and passwords.

Also review your accounts and statements with a fine tooth comb so you can spot and reverse any fraudulent activity.

Contact Creditors

Anybody you have ever dealt with in regards to money needs to know about your identity theft. Ask to speak with their security or fraud departments, and proceed to close any accounts you didn't open, reverse transactions you didn't make, and (very important), tell them to provide the corrected information to the credit bureaus.

Credit Bureaus

There are three credit agencies: Equifax, Experian, and Transunion. They keep files on your credit situation to which vendors and creditors will report information (some report to one bureau, some to others). By reporting the identity theft to one, the other two will be notified, and all three should send you a free credit report so you can double-check and correct any inaccurate information due to fraud.

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The credit agencies also have an alert system that keeps them on their toes and prevents future fraudulent activity:

Initial Alert

If you think you are a victim of ID theft or you just became one, request an Initial Alert from whichever credit agency you contact (they should advise the other agencies, but it is always good to confirm this too).

This will prevent the "other you" from authorizing any additional cards on existing accounts, increase limits, or attain new credit in your name.

Extended Alert

If you are sure that your identity was stolen, an extended alert is recommended. It is much like the initial alert, except it remains in place for seven years. You will also receive two free copies of your credit report over the following year (as opposed to one) to check for an report inaccuracies, and for the next five years it excludes you from lists prepared for creditors to offer you additional credit or insurance.

Active Duty Alert

Similar to the other alerts, this is a special alert system for those on active military duty.

Ask for Confirmation Letters

For all of the above reports, changes, and hoops to be navigated, it is imperative that you ask for confirmation letters that the accounts in question are closed, charges removed, and information on file corrected.

For more information, you can visit the FTC here, or call them on the Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-438-4338.

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I was a victim of identity theft earlier this year and I still haven't recovered from it. Bunch of paperwork and the IRS is slow on tackling the matter. Really really frustrating.

This is a great article though, lots of useful tips. I can assure you that following all these steps will definitely make your life easier. And talking from experience, please please please make LOTS of copies of the police reports. And when I say lots of copies, I mean more than a dozen! The IRS kept asking me to send copies of the same report to different offices of theirs throughout the country. Horrible bureaucracy and a pain in the butt, but it is what it is…

- Maria Alexandra