Fact Sheet 17d:
Frequently Asked Questions about Identity Theft


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Copyright © 2007 - 2014
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse
Posted May 2007
Revised February 2014

This FAQ is an addendum to our Fact Sheets 17 and 17a on identity theft.  It provides answers to questions we are often asked by individuals who have contacted us by phone, email or through our Online Complaint Center.

  1. I think that I might be at risk of becoming an identity theft victim, because someone may have obtained my Social Security number or  other sensitive information.  What should I do now to reduce my risk?
  2. Someone has used my identity when they were convicted of a crime. Now there is a criminal record in my name. What should I do?
  3. What if a family member used my identity or Social Security number without my permission?
  4. How can I find out if someone has opened credit or cell phone accounts using  my name?
  5. I am frustrated that law enforcement does not pay enough attention to identity theft. What can I do?
  6. Someone has used my Social Security number to open accounts and now debt collection agencies are calling. What should I do?
  7. I am a victim of identity theft.  How can I be sure I have done everything I need to?
  8. How can I place a fraud alert on my credit report?
  9. What is the difference between a fraud alert and a security freeze?
  10. How can I place a security freeze on my credit report?
  11. How can I prevent identity theft?
  12. My wallet was stolen. What should I do?

1. I think that I might be at risk of becoming an identity theft victim, because someone may have obtained my Social Security number or other sensitive information.  What should I do now to reduce my risk?

To protect yourself you should take the following steps. These steps are explained more fully in our Fact Sheet 17(a) http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm

  • Place a 90-day fraud alert by calling one of the three credit bureaus such as TransUnion, 1-800-680-7289.  (See Question 8 below for other numbers.)
  • Monitor your credit reports. Each fraud alert entitles you to a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit bureaus.  In addition you are entitled to order free reports annually from each of the credit bureaus by calling 1-877-322-8228.
  • If you have evidence of actual or attempted identity theft, file a police report. Once you have the report, you can extend the 90-day fraud alert to 7 years.
  • If fraudulent credit accounts have been opened in your name, contact the credit issuers to close the fraudulent accounts
  • Consider freezing your credit reports.  For instructions see http://www.consumer-action.org/english/articles/freeze_your_credit_file#Topic_04
  • Report the identity theft incident to the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-438-4338.
  • Report fraud on existing accounts to your bank or credit card company.

Please read our entire Fact Sheet 17(a) to make sure you have taken all the steps that are appropriate to your situation. http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm

2. Someone has used my identity when they were convicted of a crime. Now there is a criminal record in my name. What should I do?

It will take detailed record keeping and letter writing to resolve the situation. Please read our Fact Sheet 17(g) on Criminal Identity Theft available at : http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17g-CrimIdTheft.htm.  Follow all of the steps to ensure that your good name is cleared. Be sure to send your letters by certified mail, with return receipt requested. We encourage you to read the entire Fact Sheet. Below is an overview of some of the steps you will need to take.

  • Contact the arresting or citing law enforcement agency.
  • File an impersonation report.
  • Determine the specific law(s) in your state that enable you to clear your name in the court records.
  • Contact any information brokers who may have purchased your wrongful criminal records from the courts and/or law enforcement agencies.
  • Since criminal identity theft can have very serious consequences, you may wish to contact an attorney.

3.  What if a family member used my identity or Social Security number without my permission?

If you personally know the identity thief, information about how to address these situations is available in Fact Sheets on the Identity Theft Resource Center Web site:

4. How can I find out if someone has opened credit or cell phone accounts using  my name?      

You should order a copy of your three credit reports. Once you get the report from each credit bureau, you should review it to make sure there are not any accounts or listings you do not recognize. Every consumer, whether or not a victim of identity theft, can receive one free report each year from the three national credit bureaus by calling 1-877-322-8228.
   
5.  I am frustrated that law enforcement does not pay enough attention to identity theft. What can I do?

Contact your elected officials to express your concerns and request stronger identity theft laws. You can find your legislators at the following Web site: http://www.contactingthecongress.org/.

6.  Someone has used my Social Security number to open accounts and now debt collection agencies are calling. What should I do?

If your credit report shows that the imposter has opened new accounts in your name, contact those creditors immediately by telephone and in writing (send the letter by certified mail with return receipt requested). The FCRA (§623(6)(B)) allow you to prevent businesses from reporting fraudulent accounts to the credit bureaus.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) provides sample dispute letters, fraud affidavits, and other tools for identity theft victims at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/tools.html.

Make a written request that credit issuers give you copies of the documentation, such as the fraudulent application and transaction records. Both federal and California law give you the right to obtain these documents. (FCRA § 609(e), and California Penal Code 530.8). The California Attorney General provides instructions and sample letters for Californians on how to obtain documentation from credit grantors, http://www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/guide-for-victims.  The FTC provides a sample letter to request fraudulent transaction or account information at http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/microsites/idtheft/tools.html.

A victim of identity theft must provide a copy of the FTC affidavit or another affidavit acceptable to the business, plus government-issued identification, and a copy of an “identity theft report” (police report) in order to obtain the documents created by the imposter. The business must provide copies of these records to the victim within 30 days of the victim's request, at no charge. The law also allows the victim to authorize a law enforcement investigator to have access to these records.

When you have resolved the fraudulent account with the creditor, ask for a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed account and has discharged the debts. Keep this letter in your files. You may need it if the account reappears on your credit report. You must also notify the credit bureaus about the fraudulent accounts.
           
If debt collectors try to get you to pay the bills on these fraudulent accounts, ask for the name, address and telephone number of the collection agency, and the name of the person contacting you. Tell the caller that you are a victim of fraud and are not responsible for the account. Ask for the name and contact information for the credit issuer, the amount of the debt, account number, and dates of the charges. Ask if they need you to complete their fraud affidavit form or whether you can use the FTC fraud affidavit. Follow up by writing to the debt collector explaining your situation. Ask them to confirm in writing that you do not owe the debt and that the account has been closed.

Under provisions in the FCRA, a debt collector must notify the creditor that the debt may be a result of identity theft. (§615(g))  The FCRA also prohibits the sale or transfer of a debt caused by identity theft. (§615(f)) For more information about dealing with debt collectors, read our Fact Sheet 27, which has a section for victims of identity theft at www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs27-debtcoll.htm#8

7.  I am a victim of identity theft.  How can I be sure I have done everything I need to?

Please review our Fact Sheet 17(a) on what to do if you are a victim of identity theft. We hope this will give you peace of mind that you have done everything you need to resolve your situation.
http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm

8.  How can I place a fraud alert on my credit report?

You can use the automated system to call any one of the three credit reporting companies -- Experian, Equifax, or TransUnion. When you notify one bureau that you are at risk of being a victim of identity theft, it automatically notifies the other two. The alert will remain in effect for 90 days. If you have evidence of actual or attempted identity theft and have filed a police report, you can extend the alert to 7 years. You can also call back after the 90 days are over and place another alert on your account. A fraud alert means that your file will be flagged requiring creditors to call you or otherwise verify your identity before issuing new credit.

Equifax   

Report fraud: Call (888) 766-0008
TDD: (800) 255-0056  
Web: www.equifax.com

Experian

Report fraud: Call (888) EXPERIAN (888-397-3742) TDD: Use relay to fraud number above.
Web: www.experian.com/fraud

TransUnion

Report fraud: (800) 680-7289
TDD: (877) 553-7803
E-mail (fraud victims only): fvad@transunion.com
Web: www.transunion.com

9.   What is the difference between a fraud alert and a security freeze?

Placing a fraud alert means that your file will be flagged, requiring creditors to call you or otherwise verify your identity before issuing new credit.  You are entitled to place a free fraud alert on your credit reports even if you have not yet become a victim of identity theft. You can do this by phone, online, or in writing. You only need to contact one of the 3 credit bureaus to place a fraud alert. 

A fraud alert places a “red flag” on your credit reports, alerting potential creditors to take extra precautions before extending credit. The fraud alert will last for 90 days, but may be renewed on the 91st day for another 90 days. You can continue to renew a fraud alert indefinitely.

A security freeze is stronger and more effective than a fraud alert, because it prevents anyone from accessing your credit file for any reason unless you instruct the credit bureaus to unfreeze your report.  A security freeze is permanent and will last until you choose to terminate it.

The procedures and costs for establishing a security freeze vary from state to state (in some states, security freezes are free for identity theft victims).  It is necessary to contact each of the 3 credit bureaus if you want to establish a freeze at all 3 bureaus. For information see http://www.consumer-action.org/english/articles/freeze_your_credit_file#Topic_04

10.  How can I place a security freeze on my credit report?

The three credit bureaus -- Equifax, Experian and TransUnion -- offer security freezes nationwide. If your identity thief is aggressive and gives no indication of ceasing to use your identity to obtain credit, consider using the security freeze to reduce access to your credit file. The security freeze is available free to victims of identity theft in many states. Non-victims who want to activate the security freeze must pay a fee in most states.

The Web site of the California Department of Justice’s Privacy Enforcement and Protection Unit provides information on how to establish a security freeze in California at http://www.oag.ca.gov/idtheft/facts/freeze-your-credit. For other states, see http://www.consumer-action.org/english/articles/freeze_your_credit_file#Topic_04

While a security freeze may be the best available deterrent to new account fraud, it may not be the best solution for everyone. It can be cumbersome for individuals who frequently apply for credit, are contemplating a new mortgage, or who plan to change jobs. On the other hand, a security freeze is particularly well-suited for seniors who are no longer in the market for new credit. For a more complete discussion of the pros and cons of security freezes, see www.consumersunion.org/pdf/SecurityFreeze-Consider.pdf and http://www.consumerreports.org/cro/news/2014/02/should-you-put-a-security-freeze-on-the-credit-file/index.htm

11.  How can I prevent identity theft?

It is nearly impossible to prevent identity theft, but you can reduce your risk by taking the steps outlined in our Fact Sheet 17 http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17-it.htm

12.   My wallet was stolen. What should I do?

You should proceed as if you are a victim of identity theft. There is no way of knowing when or if a thief will use your identifying information to open new accounts.

We have outlined in detail the steps you need to take if you are a victim of identity theft in our Fact Sheet 17(a) The Identity Theft Victims Guide http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm

Most importantly you will need to:

  • Place a 90-day fraud alert by calling 1-800- 680-7289.
  • Monitor your credit reports. Each fraud alert entitles you to a free copy of your credit reports from each of the three credit bureaus.  In addition you are entitled to order free reports annually from each of the credit bureaus by calling 1-877-322-8228.
  • If you have evidence of actual or attempted identity theft, file a police report. Once you have the report, you can extend the 90 day fraud alert to 7 years.
  • Contact credit issuers to close any accounts that were in your wallet.
  • Consider freezing your credit. For information about freezing your credit go to: http://www.consumersunion.org/campaigns/learn_more/003484indiv.html.
  • Report fraud on existing accounts to your bank or credit card company.

Please read our entire Fact Sheet 17(a) to make sure you have taken all the steps that are appropriate to your situation. http://www.privacyrights.org/fs/fs17a.htm

 

Copyright © Privacy Rights Clearinghouse. This copyrighted document may be copied and distributed for nonprofit, educational purposes only. For distribution, see our copyright and reprint guidelines. The text of this document may not be altered without express authorization of the Privacy Rights Clearinghouse.


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