Chapter 3: How To Recover
If you become a victim of identity theft, being proactive can minimize its impact on you. You may need to communicate with several parties, including:
Creditors and financial institutions. If a credit card or checking account has been used or opened illegally, contact your creditor or financial institution immediately. If the account is not yours, it should be closed. If it is yours, you should get a new account number and card. Monitor all future account statements carefully for evidence of new fraud.
Legal and government agencies. You may want to report the identity theft to the police. If you do, request a copy of the police report – a credit bureau or creditor may ask you to provide one as part of their fraud investigation. A complaint can also be filed with the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, although they do not assist with individual cases. You can contact the US Postal Inspection Service if your mail was stolen or your address was used fraudulently. (Contact information is in Chapter 5.)
Credit reporting bureaus. Check your credit reports from all three bureaus. (Remember, you are entitled to additional free reports if you believe you are the victim of identity theft.) Dispute any fraudulent items – this can be done by submitting a form on-line or mailing a letter to the credit bureaus. They are required to investigate and respond within 30 days (45 days if the report was obtained through the Annual Credit Report Request Service).
Even if the fraudulent information hasn’t yet appeared on your reports, be proactive and report the crime to credit bureaus now. It is a good idea to have a fraud alert placed on your credit reports. When someone applies for credit under your name, the creditor must verify that the person applying is you. The initial fraud alert only lasts 90 days. However, if you file a police report, you can extend the alert to seven years. You can also place a one-year alert on your file if you are on active duty with the military.
If you feel like a fraud alert will not provide you with enough protection, you can place a security freeze on your credit report. When a freeze is placed on your report, no creditor or other business that does not have a pre-existing relationship with you can access your report. Since most creditors will not grant credit without checking your report first, this makes it extremely difficult for a thief to get credit in your name. If you want to apply for credit yourself (or rent an apartment or do anything else that requires a credit check) you can have the freeze lifted, either temporarily or permanently, but it may slow down the application process.
Because you may be speaking with many people, it is vital to be organized. Keep copies of all letters, file paperwork promptly, and store everything in a safe and accessible place. You can use the Identity Theft Action Log to help you keep track of what you have done.