Guarding Your Privacy
- Tips to Prevent Identity Theft
What To Do if You're a Victim
The harm to victims of identity theft can be significant and long lasting. The perpetrators of these crimes severely damage your good name and your credit rating. It’s up to you to clean up the mess. Until you do, you may be denied loans, a mortgage, security clearances, promotions, and employment.
Act quickly and assertively to minimize the damage. When you deal with the authorities and financial institutions, keep a detailed log of all conversations, including dates, names, and phone numbers. Note the time spent and any expenses incurred. Confirm conversations in writing. Send all correspondence by certified mail (return receipt requested) and maintain copies of all letters and documents.
Take Action Immediately
It would be convenient if there was a central number you could call to correct problems once your identity has been stolen. In the absence of a cure-all, acting quickly is the best way to minimize the damage and get you back on the right track.
Place a Fraud Alert in Your Credit Reports
Waste no time in contacting the three major credit bureaus to request that a fraud alert be placed in your credit reports and that a note be included to inform potential creditors that you should be contacted before any additional accounts are opened. To request that a fraud alert be placed in your credit report, you may contact the three major credit bureaus toll-free as follows:
Equifax: (800) 525-6285
Experian: (888) 397-3742
TransUnion: (800) 680-7289
Contact Banks and Creditors
Immediately contact the security or fraud divisions of any companies that maintain a credit or bank account for you. Close all accounts that you believe have been compromised by the identity thief and change account numbers for each account you don’t cancel. Request that the creditors make your accounts accessible only through use of a password. Banks and creditors may ask you to complete and notarize fraud affidavits, which can be costly. If this is the case, ask for the bank or creditor to pay the notary fee, because the law does not require that you provide one. A written statement from you and supporting documentation should be sufficient. Report burdensome bank or creditor requirements to federal regulators.
Report the Crime
Report the crime and file a report with your local police or sheriff as soon as you are aware of the theft. Keep a copy of the incident reports you filed for your records. A law enforcement record of the incident is important because it will allow you to present your creditors and banks with proof of the crime. File a report with the Federal Bureau of Investigation and the U.S. Secret Service. Also file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and ask for a complaint number for your records. The FTC monitors identity fraud and educates consumers about the crime. You may contact these agencies as follows:
Federal Bureau of Investigation
1501 Freeway Boulevard
Brooklyn Center, MN 55430
United States Secret Service
Minnesota Field Office
300 South Fourth Street, #750
Minneapolis, MN 55415
Federal Trade Commission
Identity Theft Clearinghouse
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, D.C. 20580
Keep Detailed Records
Keep detailed records of all interactions and contacts you have with businesses, creditors, and governmental agencies while you are reclaiming your identity. Be sure to follow up in writing and send all letters “return receipt requested” so you know your correspondence was received and by whom. Detailed records will be important later if you choose to bring an action in court to recover damages. Keeping good records also provides a written history of conversations so you don’t forget important events.
Cancel Stolen Checks
If the thief steals your checks or sets up fraudulent bank accounts in your name, report it to each of the major check verification companies. Ask for stop payments on any outstanding checks that you dispute and cancel or obtain new numbers for your checking and savings accounts. Contact information for several companies that maintain files related to deposit accounts follows:
Attn: Consumer Relations
12005 Ford Road, Suite 600
Dallas, TX 75234
(previously Equifax Check Systems)
P.O. Box 30296
Tampa, FL 33630
6215 West Howard Street
Niles, IL 60714
Houston, TX 77210-4451
Cleaning Up the Mess
After you have completed the initial work to recover your identity, take control of the situation by completing this checklist to deal with the most common forms of identity theft.
Contact the Post Office
Check for fraudulent change of address requests and mail fraud. If you suspect that an identity thief has filed a change of address request for you with the post office, notify the U.S. Postal Inspector. Mail theft is a felony in the United States. You should request that the postal inspector forward all mail in your name to your address.
Review Regular Bills
Review your monthly bills, including utilities, cellular phone, long distance, gas, and electric, to ensure that you have not incurred any fraudulent charges. Contact each company and report the fraud. Again, be sure to follow up all contacts in writing and maintain a copy for your records.
Watch for Social Security Number Misuse
If you think someone may have misused your Social Security number, contact the Social Security Administration and request a copy of your Social Security statement. You should follow up with the Social Security Administration if you find any fraudulent use of your number that changes your earnings and benefit eligibility. As a final option, you may consider changing your Social Security number if you establish that someone else is using your number. The Social Security Administration will change your number only if you fit specific criteria. For more information about the criteria to change your Social Security number, request this federal government fact sheet: “Identity Theft And Your Social Security Number, SSA Pub. No. 05-10064.”
Report Passport Theft
If you are the victim of identity theft and have a passport, notify the passport office in writing. Ask the office to be vigilant for anyone using your name to fraudulently obtain a new passport.
Clear False Criminal or Civil Judgments
Sometimes victims of identity theft are wrongfully accused of crimes committed by the impostor. If a civil judgment has been entered against you for actions taken by the identity thief, contact the court where the judgment was entered and report that you have been a victim of identity theft. If you are wrongfully prosecuted for criminal charges, contact the Federal Bureau of Investigation (“FBI”). Request information from the FBI about how to clear your name.
Attack Credit Report Fraud
If you find that there has been unauthorized access or use of your credit report, contact the Federal Trade Commission to determine your rights under the Federal Fair Credit Reporting Act.
Federal Trade Commission
Bureau of Consumer Protection
600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW
Washington, DC 20580
TTY: (866) 653-4261
Get Legal Help
You may want to consult a private attorney to determine what legal action to take against credit grantors and/or credit bureaus if they will not remove fraudulent entries from your credit report or if negligence is a factor. An attorney may be able to help you recover from the fraud and determine whether your rights have been violated. The Attorney General’s Office offers a free publication entitled, Hiring an Attorney, which has more information. If you cannot identify an attorney to represent you, you may contact the Minnesota State Bar Association’s Attorney Referral Service as follows:
The Minnesota State Bar Association
Attorney Referral Service
Residents of Dakota, Hennepin, and Ramsey counties may also call the following numbers for attorney referrals:
Hennepin: (612) 752-6666
Ramsey: (651) 224-1775
Contact Your Representatives
Additional laws dealing with privacy protection may currently be under consideration by the state legislature and Congress. If you are not happy with current privacy protections and fraud laws, contact your local, state, and federal representatives to voice your concerns. You may find contact information for your state and federal representatives by using the Legislative Coordinating Commission’s lookup tool, which is available online at www.gis.leg.mn/iMaps/districts/.
Don’t Give Up
Stand up for your rights. You cannot be held responsible for checks cashed or any bills that are the result of the theft of your identity. You should not live under the fear of legal action being brought against you. Your credit rating should not be affected permanently. Don’t let businesses, collection agencies, or banks pressure you into paying any bill that is not your responsibility. Let them know you are willing to cooperate to resolve the situation, but don’t let anyone take advantage of you.