Identity Theft – What to Do If It Happens to You

I am currently working with a client whose identity was stolen in August 2012 and used to obtain a number of student loans. The thief had somehow managed to obtain my client’s name, local Michigan address, Social Security number and date of birth. The theft went undetected until a few months ago when notices from the loan servicer began showing up. What makes this particular situation unique in my experience is the fact that the theft appears to have happened in Arizona, while my client has lived mostly in Europe for more than a decade!

As my client and I continue to work to unravel this, I was reminded anew of the steps to take upon discovering, or suspecting, that you have been victimized by identity theft.

    1. Contact your financial institutions, investment brokers and anyone else who is holding assets in your name. Close any compromised accounts and flag your accounts for any suspicious activity.
    2. Contact your credit card issuers to close compromised accounts and flag accounts that may not have yet been compromised.
    3. Contact all three major credit reporting bureaus to place a fraud alert and credit/security freeze on your file. Equifax(800) 525-6285; Experian (800) 397-3742; TransUnion (800) 680-3742. A “credit freeze” (or “security freeze”) is available free from each major credit reporting bureau to identify theft victims who have made a police report. Click here for more information available at the Michigan Attorney General’s website.
    4. Contact the specific creditors or businesses involved in the identity theft by phone, and then follow up with a written letter of dispute. Your letter should reference the federal Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act of 2003 (FACTA). Section 151 of FACTA sets forth a summary of the rights of identity theft victims, including the right to receive a copy of the records reflecting fraudulent transactions.
    5. File a police report. Begin with your local police for guidance as to whether or not they will make the report, or whether you need to file it with the agency where the theft appears to have occurred or the perpetrator may live.
    6. If you suspect that your mail has been stolen or diverted, contact your local post office.
    7. If you suspect that someone is using your Social Security number in connection with employment, contact the Social Security Administration’s fraud hotline at (800) 269-0271. Depending on the situation, it may be possible to get a new Social Security number.
    8. Keep copies of every letter you write, every document you send, the name of every person you talk to, phone numbers, the dates and times of your calls and notes of your conversations.
    9. While much information concerning identity theft can be found online, be very careful that you are not signing up for some service or product, or, even worse, unwittingly giving away your personal information to an identity thief.

For easy to understand, as well as useful information, sample letters and forms found in the consumer information section of the Federal Trade Commission’s website, click here.

You can also call the FTC at: 1-877-ID THEFT (1-877-438-4338).

If you, or someone you know, becomes a victim of identity theft (or suspects that they have), remember that a quick and multi-faceted response is the only way to protect yourself and repair the damage.

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