I'm an ID Theft Victim. Now What?
It's sad for me to hear the actual stories of the victims especially since it could have been so easily prevented in most cases if the lawmakers and the agencies who are supposed to protect you would just get their acts together.
Blame aside, the question is: what do you do? I wish I could help everyone, but every situation is different. What I will post here are the most common, basic steps you will take to handle the current situation and prevent further ones.
Stop the Hemmoraging
Most of ID Theft is a result of someone else gaining access to your credit reports. Things like getting a bank account, getting a job, getting a lease, turning on utilities, and getting a cellphone all require a credit check. The very first thing you need to do is cut off access to your credit files to prevent the problem from getting worse or re-occuring in the future.
- File a police report with your local police and/or the Federal Trade Commission. All you need to do is say "I want to file a report of identity theft" and let them lead you through their process. They may or may not actually provide you much help or guidance, but that's ok. All you really need is a case number. You'll need this for several of the later steps.
- Most of ID Theft activity is hinged on access to your credit report which is protected only by a combination of your personal information much of which can be accessed freely on the Internet. This needs to stop. Take your police report or case number and contact each of the three Credit Reporting Companies. Tell them you want to put a "Credit Freeze" on your file and make sure they don't try to charge you any fees (credit freezes should be free for ID Theft victims).
- While you're on the phone with them, have them send you a copy of your current credit report. If the won't, use your "free coupon" granted by federal law by going to AnnualCreditReport.com (the ONLY legitimate site to get them). You are entitled to one free report per year from each of the three companies. The site will lead you through the process, but some of the companies will try to sell you add-ons like credit monitoring services or similar. Don't do it. Get your free report and nothing else. If you see a spot to enter a credit card, you did it wrong.
Repair the Damage
Now you're going to start fixing the damage they caused.
- With your credit report in hand, you should be able to get an idea of what companies the scumbag opened accounts with or dealt with. You might even get some phone numbers and address information that's clearly not yours. Make a list of all of these and provide them to the police referencing your previous case number.
- Contact each company and explain the situation. Provide the case number or a copy of the police report if necessary, but make sure that they conduct an investigation or remove your information from the account records. Your goal here is to make sure that they no longer contact you or report you in relation to the debt/account.
- For each company you successfully do this with, follow the challenge process with the Credit Reporting Companies whose reports show that debt. They have 30 days to contact the creditor themselves to verify the item. If they can't (which they shouldn't because you just had the creditor remove your name from their records), they must remove that item from your report by law (based on the Fair Credit Reporting Act).
Shut it All Down
Someone is getting some benefit from your identity in the form of goods and/or services. You might have information of what those are and you might now. It may be worth hiring a private investigator to dig up information about yourself so you can figure out what kinds of records are in your name that shouldn't be.
Even if it didn't impact your credit report, take care of them. If you find out that the DMV for a state you've never lived in has records in your name, work to have them expunged. If someone activated a phone service for a house somewhere in your name, have it shut off. Follow every lead you have and stamp it flat. Best case scenario, you get enough information to identify the theif.
The above links are good resources to learn more about the issue, but if you want the biggest bang for the buck to learn quickly and clearly about the ID Theft problem and concrete steps you can take to prevent it in the future, please check out my Goodbye Identity Theft crash course