What to Do if You Become the Victim of a Stolen Identity: A Scambusters Special Issue

10 steps to recovering a stolen identity: Internet Scambusters #381

Here at Scambusters.org, when we write about identity theft, we usually focus on prevention; how to protect yourself and make sure your identity is never stolen. However, today we’re going to focus on what steps to take if you do become the victim of a stolen identity.

So, we’re excited to introduce our excellent attorney and special guest, Claudia Rast. Claudia is a principal at the Ann Arbor, Michigan, law firm of Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C.

Claudia recently spoke at a seminar sponsored by The Institute of Continuing Legal Education, and she and they have graciously allowed us to share her talk with you.

What to Do if You Become the Victim of a Stolen Identity

This article is copyrighted by and reprinted with the permission of The Institute of Continuing Legal Education. These materials originally appeared in the seminar materials for Identity Theft: Prevention & Cure, offered April 14, 2009, by the Institute of Continuing Legal Education, Ann Arbor, Michigan.

First Steps as a Victim of ID Theft

When all the preventative measures have failed, take the following steps right away. Speed is important here.

  1. Disconnect your Computer from the Internet. You probably have more personal information than you imagined on your computer. This advice is especially important if you store any financial records electronically or use your laptop for online financial transactions.

Use a Different Computer to do the Following:

  • File a Complaint with the FTC. Prior to filing a police report, go to the FTC Identity Theft website and complete the online questionnaire.The questionnaire will generate a customized report for you to complete.You can also complete an ID Theft Affidavit.
  • File a Police Report. This is really important. Your friends may say you are over-reacting, but this one simple step will help you big-time down the road. So, report your identity theft to the local police or sheriff’s department where you live AND the police department in the community where the theft took place. Ask the police to issue a report and request a copy of that report. (If the police refuse to issue a report, ask if they will issue a “Miscellaneous Incidents Report” instead or contact the state police.)The FTC cover letter explains why a police report and an ID Theft Complaint are so important to victims of identity theft and includes the relevant statutory provisions.Ask the officer to attach or incorporate the ID Theft Complaint into their police report, and tell them that you need a copy of the Identity Theft Report (the police report with your ID Theft Complaint attached or incorporated) to dispute the fraudulent accounts and debts created by the identity thief.(In some jurisdictions the officer will not be able to give you a copy of the official police report, but should be able to sign your Complaint and write the police report number in the “Law Enforcement Report” section.)
  • Report the Theft to the Institution. Don’t forget to call the originating institution for the credit card or ID card that was stolen. For example, if your driver’s license was stolen, call the Department of Motor Vehicles in your area.It’s also a good idea to call your banks and/or credit unions.
  • Place a “Fraud Alert” on your Credit Reports. Contact one of the credit reporting agencies listed below to place a fraud alert or credit freeze on your credit cards. A “fraud alert” will be placed on your credit reports, and the agency you contacted will notify the other credit reporting agencies. These agencies are:EQUIFAX Equifax Information Services, LLC PO Box 740256 Atlanta, GA 30374 Phone: 800-525-6285EXPERIAN Experian PO Box 2104 Allen, TX 75013 Phone: 888-397-3742TRANS UNION TransUnion PO Box 2000 Chester, PA 19022 Phone: 800-680-7289
  • Compare your Pre- and Post-Theft Inventories. Hopefully, you’ve created an inventory of all your ID cards and any magnetic strip cards such as credit cards, or frequent [flyer, latte, drug store, etc.] cards. Again, we hope you’ve included the contact telephone numbers for each card. Compare the inventories before and after your identity was stolen.
  • Obtain and Read the Terms of Services for Every Stolen Card. Different institutions may have different requirements, so get the contract and follow the steps they have outlined.
  • Close all Accounts you Believe have Been Tampered with. It may be annoying and inconvenient, but it is much, much easier to close an account and open a new one than it is to chase after your identity thief.
  • Review Your Credit Reports Immediately. Once you have placed a fraud alert on your credit reports, you will be given an opportunity to access your reports. Do it, and review them carefully.
  • Continue to Monitor Your Credit. ID theft issues can last for years, so make this a regular part of your financial routine.


Common ID Theft Terms and Definitions

Fraud Alerts. There are two types of fraud alerts: an initial alert, and an extended alert.

An initial fraud alert stays on your credit report for at least 90 days. You can request an initial fraud alert if you suspect that you are — or soon might be — a victim of identity theft.

An initial alert is appropriate if you’ve lost or misplaced a credit card or some form of ID or if you’ve inadvertently succumbed to a phishing scam.

When an initial fraud alert is posted on your credit report, potential creditors must use what the law refers to as “reasonable policies and procedures” to verify your identity before they can issue credit in your name.

The steps potential creditors may take, however, are not necessarily guaranteed to verify that the potential applicant is not you.

This is one reason why you should take advantage of the free credit report available to you from each of the three consumer reporting companies (identified above).

Tip: Be sure to request that only the last four digits of your Social Security number appear on the credit reports they send to you.

An extended fraud alert stays on your credit report for seven years.

An extended fraud alert is appropriate when there is no doubt that you’ve become a victim of identity theft. In this case, you have presumably filled out the application to receive an Identify Theft Report from the FTC website and have requested and received a written police report. Either of these reports should be sufficient to obtain an extended fraud alert.

Once in place, potential creditors must actually contact you, or meet with you in person, before they issue you credit. It’s cumbersome to be sure, but better than the alternative.

Many victims of identity theft find themselves victimized again and again when they don’t take these protective measures. An extended fraud alert entitles the ID theft victim to two free credit reports within twelve months from each of the three consumer reporting companies.

Credit Freeze. Forty-seven states in the Union have mandatory credit freeze laws in response to individual identity theft.

These laws require a credit freeze when an individual becomes the victim of identity theft. Michigan is one of three states (the other two are Missouri and Alabama) that has not passed such mandatory legislation.

Since September 2007, however, Michigan identity theft victims may contact the three credit agencies to request a credit freeze. For victims of ID theft, there is no fee, but all others must pay $10 to place, temporarily lift, or remove the credit freeze.

ID Theft Complaint. Victims of identity theft should use the tools available at the FTC website. The ID Theft Complaint is the complaint form used to file a complaint with the FTC and is found here.

The FTC makes the complaint you file available to other federal, state and local law enforcement officials nationwide. This complaint form can be used in conjunction with the police report you receive to create an Identity Theft Report that is critical to providing you with certain legal rights and which will help you recover more swiftly from the ID theft.

Identity Theft Report. The Fair Credit Reporting Act provides the ID theft victim with more legal rights when you have completed an Identity Theft Report than when you have not.

Preliminary to completing the Identity Theft Report is the filing of a police report.

An Identity Theft Report is a very useful tool that can be used to permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report. As we’ve indicated above, too, an Identity Theft Report is necessary if you need to place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.

ID Theft Affidavit. The ID Theft Affidavit is a simpler form of an Identity Theft Report, but keep in mind that it does NOT provide the legal rights available when filing an Identity Theft Report. All this takes us back to the very important first step: File a Police Report!

In summary, follow these ten steps to help you effectively deal with the issues of being a victim of a stolen identity.

About Claudia Rast: Claudia is a principal at Pear Sperling Eggan & Daniels, P.C., where she specializes in Business, Technology and Environmental Law. Since 1994, she has lectured on the law and regulation of Business, Privacy, and Information Technology Law issues at conferences and seminars sponsored by the American Bar Association, the AICPA, the Michigan Bar Association, and many others. Claudia has been our attorney for the past eleven years and she has earned our highest recommendation. You can find out more about her publications, background and expertise here.

That’s all we have for today, but we’ll be back next week with another issue. See you then!