What To Do If You’ve Been The Victim Of Identity Theft
In California, all forms of identity theft are a crime, and the the Office of the Attorney General of California’s (OAG) website defines it as the act of “someone taking personal information like your name, Social Security number, or financial account number and using it for an unlawful purpose.”
If you are suspicious that someone has stolen your identity, consider the following:
Inform the three major credit bureaus – You can report the identity theft to all three of the major credit bureaus by calling any one of the toll-free fraud numbers below. You will reach an automated telephone system and you will not be able to speak to anyone at this time. The system will ask you to enter your Social Security number and other information to identify yourself. The automated system allows you to flag your file with a fraud alert at all three bureaus. This helps stop a thief from opening new accounts in your name. The alert stays on for 90 days. Each of the credit bureaus will send you a letter confirming your fraud alert and giving instructions on how to get a copy of your credit report. As a victim of identity theft, you will not be charged for these reports. Each report you receive will contain a telephone number you can call to speak to someone in the credit bureau’s fraud department.
- Experian 1-888-397-3742
- Equifax 1-800-525-6285
- TransUnion 1-800-680-7289
Report the crime to the police – Under California law, you can report identity theft to your local police department.1 Ask the police to issue a police report of identity theft. Give the police as much information on the theft as possible. One way to do this is to provide copies of your credit reports showing the items related to identity theft. Black out other items not related to identity theft. Give the police any new evidence you collect to add to your report. Be sure to get a copy of your police report. You will need to give copies to creditors and the credit bureaus. For more information, see “Organizing Your Identity Theft Case” by the the Identity Theft Resource Center, available at https://www.idtheftcenter.org/Fact-Sheets/fs106.html.
Request information on fraudulent accounts – When you file your police report of identity theft, the officer may give you forms to use to request account information from credit grantors, utilities or cell phone service companies. When you write to creditors where the thief opened or applied for accounts, send copies of the forms, along with copies of the police report. Give the information you receive from creditors to the officer investigating your case.
Call creditors – Call creditors for any accounts that the thief opened or used. When you call, ask for the security or fraud department. Examples of creditors are credit card companies, other lenders, phone companies, other utility companies, and department stores. Tell them you are an identity theft victim. Ask them not to hold you responsible for new accounts opened by the thief. See sample letter to new creditors.
If your existing credit accounts have been used fraudulently, ask the credit issuers to close those accounts and to report them to credit bureaus as “closed at consumer’s request.” If you open a new account, have it set up to require a password or PIN to approve use. Don’t use your mother’s maiden name or the last four numbers of your Social Security number as your password. Ask the creditors to give you copies of documentation on the fraudulent accounts. For more information on what to tell creditors, see the Federal Trade Commission’s identity theft website at www.identitytheft.gov.
Review your credit report carefully – When you receive your credit reports, read them carefully. Look for accounts you don’t recognize. Look in the inquiries section for names of creditors from whom you haven’t requested credit. You may find some inquiries identified as “promotional.” These occur when a company has gotten your name and address from a credit bureau to send you an offer of credit. Promotional inquiries are not signs of fraud. (By calling to report identity theft, your name will be automatically removed from the mailing list to receive unsolicited credit offers of this kind.) Also, as a general precaution, look in the personal information section to verify your Social Security number, address and name.
If you find anything you don’t understand, call the credit bureau at the telephone number listed on the report. Tell them you want to block, or remove, any information on the report that is the result of identity theft. (You must send a police report of identity theft to support this request.)
Use the theft ID affidavit – Creditors may ask you to fill out fraud affidavits. The Federal Trade Commission’s ID Theft Affidavit is accepted by the credit bureaus and by most major creditors. Send copies of the completed form to creditors where the thief opened accounts in your name. Also send copies to creditors where the thief made charges on your account, to the credit bureaus, and to the police. The form is available on the FTC website at www.consumer.ftc.gov/articles/pdf-0094-identity-theft-affidavit.pdf. File a complaint of identity theft with the FTC. See their Web site at www.identitytheft.gov. The FTC keeps a database of identity theft cases that is used by many law enforcement agencies.
Write to the credit bureaus – Write a letter to each credit bureau. Repeat what you said in your telephone call (above). Send copies of your police report and completed ID Theft Affidavit. Remind the credit bureaus that they must block or remove any information that you, as an identity theft victim, say is a result of the theft. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested. Keep a copy of each letter. See the sample letter to credit bureaus.
- Equifax, P.O Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-024
- Experian, P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013
- TransUnion, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834
Request additional free credit reports – California identity theft victims with a police report of identity theft are entitled to receive up to 12 free credit reports, one per month for the 12 months following the date of the police report. The procedure for requesting free monthly reports is different for each of the credit bureaus.
Experian: Make a single request to receive all of your free monthly reports. Mail your request for 12 free monthly reports to Experian at P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013. Enclose a copy of the police report of identity theft, a copy of a government-issued identification card (such as driver’s license, state or military ID), and a copy of proof of current mailing address (utility bill, bank or insurance statement showing name, current mailing address, and date of issue). Also provide your full name including middle initial (and generation such as Jr., Sr., II, III), previous addresses for the past two years, Social Security number and date of birth.
Equifax: Write or call in your request each month. Mail to Equifax Fraud Department, P.O. Box 740250, Atlanta, GA 30374. Or call the toll-free number printed on your most recent Equifax credit report.
TransUnion: Write or call in your request each month. Mail to TransUnion, P. O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834. Or call the toll-free number printed on your most recent TransUnion credit report. Provide your full name including middle initial (and generation such as Jr., Sr., II, III), Social Security number, date of birth, and proof of residence (such as utility bill or bank statement).
Write to creditors – Write a letter to each creditor where an account was opened or used in your name. Repeat what you said in your telephone call. Send a copy of your police report. Black out the account number of any accounts with other creditors on a copy of your completed ID Theft Affidavit and send it. See sample letter to creditors.
Consider a credit freeze – The strongest protection against new accounts being opened in your name is a credit freeze, also called a security freeze. A freeze means that your file cannot be shared with potential creditors, insurers, employers, or residential landlords without your permission.
If your debit card or number is stolen – A debit card is an ATM card with a credit card logo on it. It accesses money directly from your bank account, and the legal protections are different from those for credit cards. If your debit card is compromised, call your bank right away and cancel the card. The bank will send you a new debit card and your checking account number will not change. The stolen money, however, will be gone while your bank investigates the matter. If you call the bank within two business days of the fraudulent transaction, your liability is limited to only $50. As time goes by, your liability for fraudulent transactions increases. If you wait more than 60 business days from the date the bank mailed the statement with the fraudulent transaction, you could lose the entire amount of the fraud.
If you are contacted by a debt collector – Call the bank and close your bank account. Open a new one with a new account number. Tell the bank you want to use a new password for access to your new account. Do not use your mother’s maiden name or the last four digits of your Social Security number. Ask your bank to notify the check verification company it uses. Report the stolen checks to the check verification companies that retail stores use. You can also contact major check verification companies. Ask them to notify retailers who use their databases not to accept the checks on your closed account. Call TeleCheck at 1-800-710-9898 and Certegy, Inc. at 1-800-437-5120. To find out if the identity thief has passed bad checks in your name, call SCAN at 1-800-262-7771. Follow up by writing to your bank. Send your letter by certified mail, return receipt requested.