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Sometimes an identity thief can strike even if you've been very careful about keeping your personal information to yourself. If you suspect that your personal information has been hijacked and misappropriated to commit fraud or theft, take action immediately, and keep a record of your conversations and correspondence.  Exactly which steps you should take to protect yourself depends on your circumstances and how your identity has been misused. However, three basic actions are appropriate in almost every case.

Your First Three Steps

First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus.

Tell them that you're an identity theft victim. Request that a "fraud alert" be placed in your file, as well as a victim's statement asking that creditors call you before opening any new accounts or changing your existing accounts. This can help prevent an identity thief from opening additional accounts in your name.

At the same time, order copies of your credit reports from the credit bureaus. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if your report is inaccurate because of fraud, and you request it in writing. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized changes made to your existing accounts. Also, check the section of your report that lists "inquiries." Where "inquiries" appear from the company(ies) that opened the fraudulent account(s), request that these "inquiries" be removed from your report.  In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

Please note: Fraud alerts and victim statements are voluntary services provided by the credit bureaus. Creditors do not have to consider them when granting credit. Thatís why itís vital to continue checking your reports periodically. In addition, fraud alerts and victim statements expire; you need to renew them periodically. Ask each bureau about its policy.

Second, close the accounts that you know or believe have been tampered with or opened fraudulently

Credit Accounts

Credit accounts include all accounts with banks, credit card companies and other lenders, and phone companies, utilities, ISPs, and other service providers. If you are closing your existing accounts, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords when you open new accounts. Avoid using easily available information like your mothers maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

If the identity thief has made charges or debits, ask the company about the following forms for disputing those transactions:

  • For New Unauthorized Accounts: Does the company accept the ID Theft Affidavit (see page 29)? If not, ask the representative to send you the companyís fraud dispute forms.

  • For Your Existing Accounts: Ask the representative to send you the companyís fraud dispute forms. If the company doesnít have special forms, use the sample letter on page 18.

ATM Cards

If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card as soon as you can. Get a new card with a new PIN.


If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment and ask your bank to notify the check verification service with which it does business. While no federal law limits your losses if someone steals your checks and forges your signature, state laws may protect you. Most states hold the bank responsible for losses from a forged check. At the same time, however, most states require you to take reasonable care of your account. For example, you may be held responsible for the forgery if you fail to notify the bank in a timely manner that a check was lost or stolen. Contact your state banking or consumer protection agency for more information.

You can contact major check verification companies directly for the following services:

  • To request that they notify retailers who use their databases not to accept your checks, call:
    1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188

    Certegy, Inc. (previously
    Equifax Check Systems):
    International Check Services:

  • To find out if the identity thief has been passing bad checks in your name, call:
    SCAN: 1-800-262-7771

  • Follow up all calls in writing. Send you letter by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep copies for your files.

Third, file a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

Get a copy of the police report in case the bank, credit card company or others need proof of the crime. Even if the police can't catch the identity thief in your case, having a copy of the police report can help you when dealing with creditors.

Tips on Filing a Police Report

  • Provide documentation. Furnish as much documentation as you can to prove your case. Debt collection letters, credit reports, your notarized ID Theft Affidavit, and other evidence of fraudulent activity can help the police file a complete report.

  • Be persistent. Local authorities may tell you that they canít take a report. Stress the importance of a police report; many creditors require one to resolve your dispute. Also remind them that under their voluntary ďPolice Report Initiative,Ē credit bureaus will automatically block the fraudulent accounts and bad debts from appearing on your credit report, but only if you can give them a copy of the police report. If you canít get the local police to take a report, try your county police. If that doesnít work, try your state police.

If youíre told that identity theft is not a crime under your state law, ask to file a Miscellaneous Incident Report instead. See page 25 for a list of state laws.

  • Be a motivating force. Ask your police department to search the FTCís Consumer Sentinel database for other complaints in your community. You may not be the first or only victim of this identity thief. If there is a pattern of cases, local authorities may give your case more consideration.

Thatís why itís also important to file a complaint with the FTC. Law enforcement agencies use complaints filed with the FTC to aggregate cases, spot patterns, and track growth in identity theft. This information can then be used to improve investigations and victim assistance.

Tips on Organizing Your Case

Accurate and complete records will greatly improve your chances of resolving your identity theft case.

  • Follow up in writing with all contacts youíve made on the phone or in person. Use certified mail, return receipt requested.

  • Keep copies of all correspondence or forms you send.

  • Write down the name of anyone you talk to, what he or she told you, and the date the conversation occurred. Use Chart Your Course of Action on page 14 to help you.

  • Keep the originals of supporting documentation, like police reports, and letters to and from creditors; send copies only.

  • Set up a filing system for easy access to your paperwork.

  • Keep old files even if you believe your case is closed. One of the most difficult and annoying aspects of identity theft is that errors can reappear on your credit reports or your information can be re-circulated. Should this happen, youíll be glad you kept your files.

For more information visit the Federal Trade Commission website:

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