Identity theft is one of the fasted growing crimes in America, victimizing millions each year. Technological advances and the proliferation of the Internet have only enhanced our exposure to thieves stealing our identity.
From eating out at a restaurant, making a purchase on the Internet, filing your taxes, shopping for the holidays, clicking on an unknown email, or losing your wallet, identity theft comes in multiple forms, but its impact is always frustrating and often times devastating. In fact, anyone can be a victim of identity theft.
If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft, there are a number of important steps for you to follow to minimize the impacts of such a personal crime and to protect you and your family. Be prepared to document all unauthorized transactions and to be patient -- the process can take a number of months.
Steps to Take:
If the theft involved existing bank accounts (checking or savings accounts as well as credit or debit cards) you should take the following steps:
- Put stop payment orders on all outstanding checks that might have been written without your knowledge.
- Close all existing credit card accounts and any account accessible by debit card.
- Open up new accounts protected with a secret password or personal identification number (“PIN”). DO NOT assign the same passwords or PINs as on the original accounts.
- Do not use common numbers (like birth dates, part of your social security number), or commonly chosen words (such as a child’s, spouse’s, or pet’s name) as passwords or PINs.
- File a report with your local law enforcement agency.
- Obtaining that report will help you in dealing with your banks, creditors, and the major credit reporting bureaus.
If an identity thief has impersonated you when they were arrested or cited or a crime, there are things you can do to correct your record. First of all, to prevent being wrongfully arrested, carry copies of documents showing that you are a victim of identity theft even if you do not know that criminal violations have been attributed to your name. If they have, contact the law enforcement agency (police or sheriff’s department) that arrested the identity thief. Or if there is a warrant for arrest out for the impersonator, contact the court agency that issued it. You may also want to get a lawyer to help you.
- File a report with the Federal Trade Commission. The Federal Trade Commission maintains an Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse and aids identity theft investigations by collecting complaints from identity theft victims and sharing the information with law enforcement agencies, credit bureaus, companies where fraud took place, and other government agencies. Many creditors and the major credit reporting bureaus will accept the ID Theft Affidavit.
- Fill out the identity theft affidavit offered by the FTC. This form will help you report information about your identity theft condensed into just one form. If a new account has been opened in your name, you can use this form to provide the information that will help companies investigate the fraud.
- Once you have filled out the affidavit as completely and accurately as possible, mail copies to any of the companies concerned with the fraud, such as banks and creditors. Make sure that you keep copies of all of your paperwork, including records of everyone you have corresponded with, fraudulent bills, police reports, and complaint forms.
Contact all three major credit reporting bureaus:
- First, ask the credit bureaus to place a “fraud alert” on your file. You must then be contacted directly before any new credit is taken out in your name. Colorado law requires the credit bureau to then block any new, negative credit information resulting from the theft of your identity. A fraud report filed with one bureau will be shared with the other bureaus.
Contact all your creditors:
- Keep copies of all correspondence and documents exchanged with each creditor.
- Cancel all existing credit card accounts and open replacement accounts. Ask that those cancelled accounts be processed as "account closed at customer's request" to avoid any negative reporting to credit bureaus.
- If replacement accounts or credit cards require passwords or PINs to access, DO NOT use the same passwords or PINs as on the original accounts. Do not use common numbers (like birth dates, part of your social security number), or commonly chosen words (such as a child’s, spouse’s, or pet’s name) as passwords or PINs.
Notify the phone company:
- If the identity theft involves the misuse of a long-distance telephone account, cellular telephone, or other telephone service, contact your telephone or wireless company and immediately close all existing accounts. If replacement accounts require passwords or PINs to access, do not use the same passwords or PINs as on the original accounts.
Notify the post office:
- If you suspect that your mail has been stolen or diverted with a false change-of-address request, contact your local postal inspector. You can obtain the address and telephone number of your local postal inspector by visiting the United States Postal Service web site.
Notify the Social Security Administration:
- If you suspect that someone is using your social security number to obtain credit or employment, contact the Social Security Administration fraud hotline at 1-800-269-0271 (TTY: 1-866-501-2101
Notify the State Department:
- If your passport has been stolen, notify the passport office in writing to be on guard for anyone ordering a new passport in your name. Contact: US Department of State, phone number is (202) 955-0430.
If you are contacted by a collection agency:
- If you are contacted by a collection agency about a debt for which you are not responsible, immediately notify them that you did not create the debt and that you are a victim of identity theft. Follow up with the collection agency and creditor in writing and include a copy of your law enforcement report or ID Theft Affidavit. Send your letter, and copy of the report or affidavit, “return receipt requested,” or with some other process that gives you proof that the collection agency received your letter.
- If the collection agency continues to contact you, please see the Creditor Fraud Center.
If you believe you have been victimized by Identity Theft, contact the Colorado Bureau of Investigations Identity Theft Unit online or by telephone at 1-855-443-3489 (toll free).