By Kelly Griese
Wednesday, October 21, 2020
It’s something we all dread, and it’s an all too common crime. In this season of scary things, I want to prepare you for the frightful task of recovering from identity theft.
First, some signs that you are indeed a victim. Most identity thieves are looking for money ultimately. But in addition to draining your bank account and racking up charges on your credit cards, they might get a new cell phone plan using your information, visit the doctor with your health insurance, or even collect your tax refund. Here are some clues that your identity has been stolen:
- You stop receiving bills or other mail
- You receive calls from debt collectors about debts that aren’t yours
- You notice unfamiliar charges or new accounts on your credit report
- Your health insurance rejects legitimate claims
- The IRS tells you more than one tax return was filed in your name
If you notice any of these red flags of identity theft or other signs of a problem, you need to take quick action to stop further harm and reverse whatever damage has already been inflicted. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) produced this short video, and I think it’s a good introduction to the topic of recovery.
As explained in the video, one of the first steps to stopping and recovering from identity theft is to visit www.IdentityTheft.gov. The website has an identity theft report you can fill out, and it walks you through all the next steps depending on what the identity thief did with your information. Did they open new accounts? Did they spend your money? Did they file for your tax refund?
Document the Theft
Create an FTC Identity Theft Report. This will help you prove that someone stole your identity, which you may need to do when working with businesses and creditors.
Work with Credit Bureaus
Consider placing a one-year or seven-year extended fraud alert on your credit report. To do this, you’ll need to contact one of the three national credit bureaus: Equifax, TransUnion, or Experian. A one-year alert requires potential creditors to take reasonable steps to verify who is applying for credit in your name. A seven-year alert requires potential creditors to contact you before they issue credit in your name.
You should also work with the credit bureaus to remove fraudulent information from your credit report. This is called blocking. To do this, you’ll have to send a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report, proof of your identity, and a letter stating which information is fraudulent. Next, the credit bureau will tell the relevant creditor that someone stole your identity. Creditors are not allowed to turn fraudulent debts over to debt collectors.
You may have to work with the credit bureaus to dispute fraudulent or inaccurate information on your credit report. They are required to investigate your dispute and amend your report if you are right.
As always, I recommend a security freeze on your credit reports. This can help prevent identity theft by making your credit reports inaccessible. Creditors won’t issue new lines of credit if they can’t first look at your credit report, and a security freeze makes the report invisible! For instructions and links to setting up a security freeze, visit the Indiana Attorney General’s website.
Communicate with Creditors and Debt Collectors
As I mentioned above, creditors are not allowed to report fraudulent accounts to the credit reporting companies, but you must contact creditors to let them know your identity was stolen. You’ll need to provide them with a copy of your FTC Identity Theft Report.
When talking with creditors and debt collectors, ask for copies of any documents related to the theft of your identity, such as transaction records or applications for new accounts. You can ask the creditors to send the documents to a specific law enforcement agency.
Get written information from debt collectors about the debt, including the name of the creditor and the amount you supposedly owe. You should ask for this information in writing.
Send letters to debt collectors asking them to stop contacting you. You have this right even if the debt is legitimate. Learn more about dealing with debt collectors here.
In Indiana, there are several agencies you can work with if your identity is stolen, depending on what the thief did with the information. Visit USA.gov for a list of Indiana agencies that can help you with complaints about stores, banks, insurance companies, utilities, and more.
Recovering from Identity Theft
Rest assured, recovery is possible. It takes some work, but you can do it. Obviously, it’s better to avoid falling victim in the first place, but with identity theft becoming more common, we’re lucky to have so many recovery resources available.
The MoneyWise Matters blog has a wealth of information about managing money and avoiding fraud. You can look through the complete archive here.