Editorial Policy

How to Report Identity Theft

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By Eva Norlyk Smith, Ph.D.
November 14, 2009

Every year, identity theft strikes almost 9 million Americans. The theft is most typically discovered within the first three months, but in some cases it takes much longer; the victim might only find out when he or she is declined for a new credit card application.

The most common form of identity theft is using someone’s personal information to open a checking account, a credit card account, or a mobile phone account. In 43% of cases, the fraud is perpetrated by someone that the victim knows. On average, the cost to the victim is upwards of $6,000.

Apart from the financial damage, identity theft can damage the reputation of the person affected and create long-term financial difficulties, particularly if not addressed in the right way. If you or someone you know are a victim of identity theft, here are five important steps to minimize the damage:

1. Early reporting is essential. The earlier you discover and report the crime, the better. For this reason, monitor your credit report regularly; at least once a year, but preferably more frequently. You are entitled to a free credit report from each of the credit rating agencies once a year at www.AnnualCreditReport.com.

2. Put a fraud alert on your credit report. If you fall victim to identity theft, immediately contact the three major credit reporting agencies and ask them to put a fraud alert on your credit report. Fraud alerts are typically valid for 90 days, but if you have suffered identity theft, request an extended fraud alert, which lasts seven years.

The three credit reporting agencies have great online resources to facilitate the process of putting a fraud alert on your credit report. Use the links below to find the material and information needed to place the alert with each agency:

  • Equifax: 1-800-525-6285 or Equifax fraud alerts
  • Experian: 1-888-397-3742; Experian fraud alerts
  • TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289 or email: fvad@transunion.com

    3. Close compromised accounts. Close any credit card accounts, bank accounts, or other accounts that have been compromised to prevent any recurring charges. If necessary, open new accounts to replace the ones you closed.

    4. File an ID Theft Complaint with the FTC. The FTC.gov website enables you to file an ID Theft Complaint online (or call 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338). In it, you will indicate which types of ID theft you’ve been exposed to and how the identity thief used your information to commit fraud. Once you submit the information, you will be able to print a copy. Take this with you when you go to your local police to file a report, and use it in all other reporting about the crime.

    5. File a police report. File a report with your local police department, and ideally with state or federal law enforcement agencies, such as your State Attorney General, the FBI, the U.S. Secret Service, or the U.S. Postal Inspection Service. In the report, provide all the details you have about the identity theft, including dates, a list of any fraudulent accounts opened. If you think you know who the perpetrator is, include details about that and any proof or supporting evidence.

    6. File an Identity Theft Report. Once you’ve completed steps 2 thru 5, it’s time to file an Identity Theft Report with the credit rating agencies and with any company where the perpetrators used your personal information. An Identity Theft Report includes a copy of the report(s) you have filed with a federal, state or local law enforcement agency. The credit rating agencies may require you to submit additional information.

    This is one of the most important steps you will take. Once you file the Identity Theft Report, all fraudulent information on your credit report will be blocked, and will no longer affect your credit score. The Identity Theft Report will also put a halt to debt collection attempts resulting from the identity fraud. Further, the Identity Theft Report is required to put an extended fraud alert on your credit reports.

    To get your Identity Theft report accepted by the credit reporting companies, it is important to include sufficient detail for the credit rating agencies to verify that you indeed are a victim of identity theft. If you go thru the steps outlined in points 2 thru 5 above, you should be able to provide all the details required. If you’re asked to provide additional information, be sure to respond without the timeframe given.

    For more information about what to do if you’ve become a victim of identity theft, go to FTC.gov.