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Identity Theft – The Christmas Present You Don’t Want to Receive.

December 22, 2010

Years ago, my information was stolen from the mailbox while I was in college.  I’m 31 now, if that gives you an idea as to how long I’ve been fighting this particular nemesis.  At first, it was computers and cell phones that someone was attempting to purchase.  Fortunately for me they were not successful.  After that I became very careful with my personally identifying information, to the degree that we don’t shred vital papers anymore, we burn them.  Subsequent to my original problem, my debit card number was stolen, copied, and all the monies in my checking accounts were then frozen.  That is a problem because you can’t transfer monies to live on in the interim from brokerage accounts via either wire or ACH transfer when ALL of your banking accounts are frozen.  It took many weeks to resolve that instance to be refunded the original monies plus all the overdrafts.  Then comes the kicker, I applied for a Discover card to get airline miles.  No one around here takes Discover so I was just being foolish.  Shockingly, I was declined as I pay all bills on time and have always kept my financial house in order.  Alarm bells go off.  Not again!!

This time the theft was to the tune of approaching $8,000 in past due utility accounts and additional accounts seem to be found all the time; the gift that keeps on giving!  We may have discovered how this happened and it was through no fault of my own.  That aside, I’ll walk you through the various and myriad steps of dealing with identity theft.

  1. Place a fraud alert with each of the three credit reporting agencies.  Have your credit reports pulled at the same time; this is a courtesy done for fraud victims (or if you’ve been declined credit).  Equifax: 800-525-6285 Experian: 888-397-3742 TransUnion: 800-680-7289.
  2. Contact the Social Security Administration to verify that your social security number is being not used by someone else to gain employment (and not pay taxes!).  Tax liens are not something you want to deal with, ever.  SSA Fraud Hotline: 800-269-0271
  3. Contact local law enforcement and file an incident report with them regarding the identity theft.  Report all open, write off, and collection accounts to law enforcement.  You may need to file subsequent supplemental reports as more accounts are turned over to collections and you have more information (including account numbers, opening dates, final balances, etc.).
  4. Report your case of identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission.
  5. Request a copy of your police report from the records division of your local law enforcement agency.
  6. You will need the police report to place a freeze on your credit.  In many states, the freeze is free if you provide the credit reporting agencies with a copy of the report.  Otherwise the fee can be up to $10.00.  A credit freeze prevents any use of your credit file in extending any form of credit.  Via letter sent certified mail return receipt requested provide your full name, your birth date, social security number, a copy of your driver’s license, and a copy of your police report to the credit reporting agencies.  The addresses are as follows:  TransUnion, Fraud Victim Assistance Department, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834; Experian Security Freeze, P.O.Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013; and Equifax Security Freeze, P.O. Box 105788, Atlanta, Georgia 3034.  (Edited to add: It may be cheaper, depending on your state’s fees to place the credit freeze electronically via the credit reporting bureau’s individual websites.  Also, for individuals that use their credit file often, such as someone with a small business that opens new accounts frequently, a credit freeze may not be recommended for their situation.  The fees would be excessive to thaw and re-freeze the credit file repeatedly.)
  7. Begin the process of contacting each unfamiliar inquiry, collection, write off, and open account on your credit report and explain that you were a victim of identity theft.  State that your information was used to fraudulently obtain services.  In my experience, they expect you to provide a service address or contact telephone number (which you likely will not have), you can offer your social security number as accounts are usually tracked that way.  If you open the link on each of these items on your credit report, there is either a contact address or phone number.  The fastest way to reach a human who can verify if you have a stale account with them is to call billing and press the button for setting up a payment plan.  If a collection agency has contacted you, DO NOT provide them with your social security number or any type of financial information.  Simply ask them for the last four digits of the social security numbers attached to their file and verify if they are yours or not.  For each fraudulently obtained account, you will likely be asked to complete a fraud package which entails a fraud affidavit and providing copies of documents that prove your identity, as well as a copy of the police report with that creditor/credit account listed on it.  (Edited to add: Why start calling companies that have only inquired about your credit file?  I have found that it means they have turned your account over to a collection agency that will be contacting you shortly.)

Sample Letter to the credit reporting agencies for a credit freeze:

Re: Credit Freeze  SSN: XXX XX XXXX Date of Birth:  Month Date, Year
Ladies and Gentlemen:
I would like a credit freeze placed on my credit file. I have enclosed a copy of my YOURSTATE Driver’s License and a YOUR County Incident Report to verify my identity and status as a victim of identity theft to qualify for a no-cost credit freeze.
Should you require any further information, please do not hesitate to contact me at your earliest convenience in writing at the address below.  Thank you for your assistance with this matter.

Adapt the letter as necessary to reflect your state’s statutes on the allowable costs for credit freezes.  For some states, you will need to include a credit card number, expiration date, and a line allowing them to deduct the fee that is allowable in your state.

2 Comments leave one →
  1. December 23, 2010 6:18 pm

    Very nice and informative article. Thanks for the quality content and I hope you update your blog frequently as I`m interested in this topic. I`ve already bookmarked this article. Thanx!

  2. December 24, 2010 1:47 pm

    I recently wrote an essay on a similar thematic but I see some nice points listed here that I miss in my essay, “ask for change” for example. I really like this one

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