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Cleaning Up Identity Theft

They got me.  What next?

So you’ve monitored you’re accounts and credit reports and now you’re sure that someone has taken over your identity.  The cleanup process will take some time and effort and may even cost you but it is possible to get your life back.  The following steps will give you a template for how to proceed.

Place a fraud alert or freeze on your credit reports

A fraud alert lets potential companies know that you have been a victim of identity theft so that they will exercise greater discretion when verifying the identity of the person attempting to open a new account.  There are two types of fraud alerts: initial (90 days) and extended (7 years).  The initial fraud alert can be used even before a theft occurs.  Filing an initial fraud alert will also entitle you to a free credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.  You need only file with one credit bureau.  They will notify the other two (though it’s always good to check back).  You can get an extended fraud alert once you have proven that you are a victim of identity theft by way of an Identity Theft Report.  This will also remove you from solicitation lists for five years so you won’t get credit offers sent to your house.  You can also place a freeze on your credit so that new companies will not be able to see your credit at all unless you release the freeze.  This won’t stop all future fraud from happening.  Thieves could still use your current credit cards and accounts if they obtain the necessary information.  This will just prevent them from opening new sources of debt for you to clean up.  Also, know that some accounts may not require credit reports to be pulled before opening so a credit freeze would not help in that situation.

Dispute fraudulent debts on your credit report

Contact all three major credit bureaus to dispute any fraudulent items you find on any of your reports.  The bureau will send the dispute to the creditor.  The creditor will have a certain amount of time to review the account and state any objections before the debt is removed from your report.

Information for the three major credit bureaus is listed below:

 TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

Close any fraudulent or compromised account

It can be hard to part with an account number that you’ve had since you were a kid but it’s even harder to part with your hard earned money.  Depending on the source of the fraud, you may need to change account numbers on one or more accounts.  If, for example, someone used your debit card to get money out of your account, you would not necessarily need to close your checking account but rather just close your debit card and get a new card number.  The opposite may be true for check fraud (you may get to keep your old debit card and just transfer it to a new checking account number).  It’s also important to tell your financial institutions that you are taking these precautions because of recent fraud and have them put a message stating such on your old and new accounts.  This way if a fraudulent transaction comes through on the old account, they won’t clear it from the new account all the while thinking that they’re helping you out.

Notify authorities

Once you have your credit reports, review them and determine what accounts are not yours.  You will want to make a police report to aid in prosecution and to show to creditors that you are serious.  Also report the fraud to the FTC (Fair Trade Commission).  The FTC can share your case with multiple law enforcement agencies and they compile information on fraud schemes that is used to create laws and policies that help to prevent fraud.

 FTC’s Identity Theft Hotline: (877) IDTHEFT (877-438-4338)


Put on passwords or extra security controls

Most financial institutions will allow you to place some kind of extra security on your account so that a potential fraudster will have to know more than just your vital information to access your account.  This may also be a good time to change your passwords for any online services you use.

Try to determine the security failure

Many people never find out how they were targeted for identity theft and so they continue doing the same risky activities that may have led to the fraud.  Through self-evaluation of your current lifestyle you can often uncover possible security shortcomings that an identity thief could exploit.  Below is a list of possible risky activities that you may want to consider:

 Using Pay-At-The-Pump or other isolated payment consoles that would be a good target for criminals to install devices which steal your card information.  With today’s technology, simply looking for exposed wires or odd looking attachments may not be enough to determine whether a card skimmer has been installed.  You may want to consider going inside to pay for your gas for added security.

 Use cards at “sit-down” restaurants.  Have you ever worried about what the waiter could be doing with your card when he takes it to the back to ring you up?  That’s a legitimate concern.  Some debit and credit card fraud has been attributed to untrustworthy servers writing down card information when out of the sight of customers.  That’s all they would need to buy goods online or sell the information on the online black market.  If the server has to take your card out of your sight, it may be a better idea to give cash instead.

 Making online purchases.  We all do it – some more than others – but the fact is, the more times your card info is transmitted or saved online, the higher your chance for fraud.  But there are some things you can do to limit the risk and still make that impulse buy.  First, you should always have antivirus software installed that is current and uses real-time shields against viruses and malware to protect your computer while you surf.  Also do a full scan from time to time to see if something was loaded that your antivirus software didn’t catch before but now knows to be malware. And keep in mind that using a public computer to make online purchases is really a bad idea because anyone could have tampered with that computer. Secondly, many websites give you the option to purchase from them without establishing a login (as a guest).  Card info is less likely to be stored on their servers when you purchase as a guest.