University of Illinois Extension

If You Are a Victim of Identity Theft

The Federal Trade Commission estimates that as many as 9 million Americans have their identities stolen each year.

What Is Identity Theft?

Identity theft occurs when someone uses your personal identifying information, like your name, Social Security number, or credit card number, without your permission, to commit fraud or other crimes.

Identity theft is very serious. Some identity theft victims can resolve their problems quickly; others will spend hundreds of dollars and hours to repair damage to their good name and credit history.

Many consumers learn that their identity has been stolen after some damage has been done. You may find out when:

  1. Bill collection agencies contact you for overdue debts you never incurred.
  2. You apply for a mortgage or car loan and are denied because of a negative credit history.
  3. You get something in the mail about an apartment you never rented, a house you never bought, or a job you never held.
  4. You lose job offers because of a poor credit history.

What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen?

If you are a victim of identity theft, follow the steps below. Keep a record of conversations and copies of all correspondence.

Place a fraud alert on your credit reports. This prevents the thief from opening more accounts in your name. Contact one of the three credit reporting agencies using their toll-free fraud alert number to place the alert. The agency is required to contact the other two credit reporting agencies.

Review your credit reports. Once you have put the fraud alert on your credit report, you are entitled to order a free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies. When you get the reports, check to make sure your information is correct. If you find inaccurate information, get it corrected.

Close the accounts you know have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Call the fraud department of each company. Follow up, in writing, and include copies of support documents. Send your
correspondence by certified mail, return receipt requested, to verify that the letter was received. Keep a copy of your correspondence.

When you open new accounts, use a new PIN and add a secure password to your accounts. Ask companies for the forms to dispute fraudulent transactions.

Contact the local police department and file a report that the identity theft occurred. Get a copy of the report with the case number, investigating officer, and location of the police station. You will need this report to verify that you were a victim.

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission using the online complaint form or call 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338). Using your FTC Complaint Assistant Form can help law enforcement officials track down identity thieves. By filing your complaint, the report can be used to permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report.

What Can You Do to Prevent Identity Theft?

Awareness is an effective weapon against identity theft. Check your accounts and bank statements each month. Each year get a copy of your credit report and check it for accuracy. Look for the signs - inaccurate information, missing billing statements, change of address. If you check regularly, you may be able to limit the damage caused by identity theft.

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