Stolen Identity? Here's What to Do

Here's a checklist of the steps you need to take if you suspect your identity has been stolen.

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If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft or fear that you may become one -- for example, you lost your wallet, gave personal information to a stranger, or had your house burglarized -- take these steps immediately.

1. Start a log. As you make phone calls or send letters, keep notes of your conversations and correspondence with authorities and financial institutions, including dates, names, and phone numbers. Also keep track of all time spent and expenses you incur; you can deduct theft-related expenses on your income tax return, assuming you itemize deductions, and you may be able to seek compensation if you are ever able to sue the thief.

2. Contact the credit bureaus. Call or visit the websites of the three major credit bureaus and ask that they issue a fraud alert and attach a statement to your credit report.

Also, get copies of your credit report from each of the credit bureaus. Look for all possible signs of trouble: accounts you didnt open, inquiries you didnt initiate, and defaults and delinquencies you didnt cause. Also check your identifying information carefully.

The credit bureaus may issue one of the following types of alerts (note that for any alert you will need to submit proof of identity, which may include your Social Security number):

  • Initial alert. You can request an initial alert even if you merely think that you may become a victim. This alert will be placed in your file for 90 days. The alert states that you do not authorize an additional card on an existing account, an increase in the credit limit of an existing account, or new credit (other than an extension of credit on an existing credit card account). The alert may delay your ability to get credit. You can get one free copy of your credit report from each bureau when you place an alert.
  • Extended alert. If you are a victim of identity theft, you can send the credit bureau an identity theft report and request that it place an extended alert in your file. An identity theft report is an official report you have filed with a federal, state, or local law enforcement agency, and additional information the bureau may require. The extended alert is similar to the initial alert, but it remains in place for seven years and you can get two free copies of your credit report from each bureau during the next 12 months. In addition, for five years, each bureau must exclude you from lists that it prepares for creditors or insurers with offers of credit or insurance that you did not request (so-called "prescreened offers").
  • Active duty alert. If you are on active military duty, you can add an active duty alert to your file. This is similar to the other alerts, but it remains in place for 12 months, the exclusion from prescreened lists lasts for two years, and you are not entitled to a free credit report.
  • Creditor's duty when alert is in place. A creditor or other user of a credit report containing one of these alerts must take extra steps to verify the identity of the person requesting credit before it proceeds with the transaction. In the case of an extended alert, you may include a telephone number that the creditor must call to confirm that the request for credit is not the result of identity theft.

3. Review your credit reports. After you receive your credit reports from the three credit bureaus, review them thoroughly. Make sure that all your personal information, including name, address, and Social Security number, is correct and that there are no fraudulent accounts or inquiries. Look for accounts that you didn't apply for or open, inquiries that you didn't initiate, and defaults and delinquencies that you didn't cause. Immediately report any suspicious information or activity to the credit bureau that issued the credit report.

4. Call the police. File a report of the crime with your local police department. Provide as much evidence as you can, and ask the officer to list all fraudulently accessed accounts that you know about on the police report. Be sure to get copies of the police report, because creditors will probably ask to see them. Remember to log the phone numbers and names of all the law enforcement agents that you speak to; creditors may want this information.

5. Fill out an Identity Theft Victim's Complaint and Affidavit. The form is available from the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Creditors may accept this affidavit when you claim that you are not responsible for a new account or for transactions on an existing account. The information that you provide will enable the creditor to investigate your claim. (The creditor may require you to submit additional information or a different form.) This affidavit also will be useful if you request copies of the thief's application and transaction records (see Step 6). Follow the instructions that accompany the form.

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