Have you fallen victim to a form of identity theft? Have you had your Social Security number, bank account or credit card numbers compromised?
Identity theft occurs when someone steals someone else’s financial identity to commit fraud. Stealing your identity could mean that someone is using your personal information without your permission, including your name, Social Security number or credit card number.
Identity thieves rent apartments, open credit cards or start other accounts in your name. You may not find out about the theft until you review your credit report or a credit card statement and notice accounts you didn’t open, charges you didn’t make or until you’re contacted by a debt collector.
If you have lost a wallet containing your Social Security number or other personal identification, noticed bills from unfamiliar accounts or unknown charges on your existing account, you’ll want to act quickly to help protect yourself from identity theft. Look closely for unfamiliar charges, as even a small charge can be a danger sign. Thieves sometimes will take a small amount from an account and then return to take much more if the small charge goes unnoticed.
If you have experienced identity theft, the first step to recovery is to contact the companies where you know the fraud occurred and ask them to freeze or close the accounts. Be sure to change your logins, passwords, and PINs for these accounts too. Next, place a fraud alert with the credit reporting agencies — TransUnion, Experian or Equifax. You only need to contact one of the three companies and it will share the fraud alert with the other two. These alerts are free and can be good for up to a year.
You can also report your identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission by calling 1-877-438-4338 or reporting online at identitytheft.gov. Based on the information you enter, identitytheft.gov can create an identity theft report and recovery plan. Your identity theft report proves to businesses that someone stole your identity. It also guarantees you certain rights. You may also consider filing a police report.
Once you have reported the identity theft to the FTC, you may need to dispute charges on your existing accounts and/or correct your credit report. Write to each organization with the discrepancy, including a copy of the FTC identity theft report or police report, and explain which charges are fraudulent. Ask for those charges to be removed. Sample letters are available on identitytheft.gov.
Routinely check your credit reports for suspicious activity. You can request a free credit report from a nationwide credit reporting company once every 12 months. You can choose to request reports from the nationwide credit-reporting companies all at once or one report at a time. By requesting the reports at the same time, you can determine whether any of your bureau files have errors. By requesting the reports separately, you can monitor your credit files at no cost more frequently throughout the year.
To learn more about recovery from identity theft, visit identitytheft.gov, which is the federal government’s one-stop resource for identity theft victims. The site, run by the Federal Trade Commission, provides detailed specific checklists and sample letters to guide victims through the recovery process. An account for personalized assistance can be created on the FTC’s website.
If you have questions about identity theft, schedule an appointment with the Fort Leavenworth Legal Assistance Office at 684-4944.