What is Identity Theft?
Identity theft is a situation in which someone pretends to be someone else by assuming that person's identity, usually as a method to gain access to resources or obtain credit and other benefits in that person's name. The victim of identity theft can suffer adverse consequences if they are held responsible for the perpetrator's actions.
Identity theft occurs when someone uses another's personally identifying information, like their name, identifying number, or credit card number, without their permission, to commit fraud or other crimes. Identity thieves may obtain this information by tricking you over the phone, email, or social networking sites, or they may try and look for personal information in documents that had not been properly disposed of.
- Errors on your credit or bank statements
- Errors on your credit report
- Late or missing bills
- Receiving credit cards you did not apply for
- Calls or letters about purchases you did not make
- Denials of credit or being offered less favorable terms for no apparent reason
If You Believe Your Identity Has Been Stolen
- Place a Fraud Alert - contact one of three credit reporting companies (TransUnion, Experian, or Equifax) to inform them that you may have been the victim of identity theft. They will place an alert on your credit report that will make it hard for an identity thief to open accounts in your name. The credit reporting company that you contact will then in turn contact the other two reporting companies, who will then apply the same alert. Fraud alerts last for 90 days, but can be renewed. A fraud alert is free, but you must be able to provide proof of your identity.
- Contact Financial Institutions - Contact your banks and credit card companies to inform them that you believe you have been the victim of identity theft.
- Get a Credit Report - Victims of identity theft are entitled to a free credit report from each of the reporting companies. Review the credit reports for unauthorized charges or accounts and dispute any errors you find.
- Create an Identity Theft Report - it will help you deal with the credit reporting companies, debt collectors, and businesses that gave the identity thief credit or opened accounts in your name. It will help you get fraudulent information removed from your credit report and stop debt collectors.
Resolving identity theft is a long process. Here are some steps to help it run smoothly.
- Keep detailed records of correspondences (phone calls, emails, etc).
- Keep all documents received, and don't hand out originals.
- Keep track of deadlines (when you must file requests, when a company was supposed to have responded, when you should follow up, etc).
- Confirm that everybody you have contact with has the correct information (name, address, phone number) and that the identity thief hasn't made changes to any of your records.