Last week in the Legal Corner we discussed how consumers can protect themselves from theft, fraud, and scams. Now let’s discuss identity theft and fraud and what options you may have if you unfortunately become a victim. In addition to consumer theft and fraud, identity theft and fraud is becoming a major financial issue for Americans young and old.
Identity theft and fraud occurs when someone obtains the personal information of another and uses it without their permission. Not only is identity theft and fraud a crime, but it can cause major financial issues for the victim. If you or someone you know discover that your identity has been stolen or your personal information has been used, there are certain steps you can take to begin repairing.
One of the first steps you should take is to contact the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to report the theft or fraud. Next, you need to file a fraud alert with at least one of the three national credit reporting companies. Once you have filed a report with one company, that company will inform the other two companies of the alert. The initial fraud alert will prevent a thief from opening any additional accounts or continuing to use personal information. When there is an active fraud alert, a company must verify your identity before issuing any credit. Generally, the fraud alert will remain active for 90 days, and after the 90 days you can request another 90 days. After, you have filed a fraud alert, you need to request a copy of your credit report. You can obtain a copy of your credit report from any of the three national credit reporting companies, but generally you would make the request with the same company that you filed the fraud alert. You may also choose to contact the Social Security Administration, if you think someone has access and is using your social security number and contact the Internal Revenue Service if you think someone is using your tax identification number.
Once you have obtained a copy of your credit report, take the time to go through it carefully and check for any errors or mistakes. For example, make sure there aren’t any accounts listed that you did not open or any purchases that you did not make. If you see either of those things on your report, contact the credit reporting company immediately to file a dispute and contact the fraud department of the company that has listed the account or purchase. As you are contacting each company or business to report errors or theft, make sure you get copies of any applications or documents that the thief may have used in order to make accounts or purchases under your name.
Another major form of identity theft includes lost or stolen credit, ATM, or debit cards. You can limit your responsibility for unauthorized charges if you take the right steps immediately. The first step is to report a loss or stolen card immediately to the bank or credit company that issued the card. You need to report the stolen or lost card immediately, because certain federal laws will not allow companies to hold you responsible for any charges that occur after you report the loss or theft. Once you have contacted the bank or credit card company, send a letter just to confirm that you have called to report the loss or stolen credit, debit, or ATM card. Make sure you continue to check your bank or credit card statements regularly for any errors and continue to report them immediately.
Unfortunately, when your identity has been stolen, it takes time to completely repair the damages and correct and clear all errors on your credit report. It is always important to be patient, and most importantly keep a record of all the calls that you make and any documents you may file. Moreover, in most cases the victim can pursue criminal charges against any person that obtains and uses their financial information without permission. Next week in the Legal Corner we will discuss some of the criminal charges associated with check and credit card theft, and the consequences. As always contact an attorney for more detailed information or to assist you throughout the process. Be Informed. Be Prepared.