Controlling the Damage: Battling Identity Theft

By: Eric Jilson

If you are the victim of identify theft you need to take immediate action to minimize liability and further damage. Here's what to do - and who to contact - if your personal information has been stolen.

If you report an identity theft within two days Visa, Mastercard and some bank-issued credit and ATM cards may limit your liability to $50. If you report within 60 days, your losses may be limited to $500. Don't wait longer or you may be responsible for your entire loss.

Cancel your cards and ask that accounts be marked 'closed at consumer's request'. Do not pay excess charges, and request written confirmation once issues are resolved. Choose new and unique passwords for your new cards.

The major credit-reporting agencies - Equifax, Experian and TransUnion - have departments dedicated to addressing fraud. If you contact one all of them should be alerted, but try to contact them individually. Ask them to issue a fraud alert to prevent damage to your credit rating. There are two types of fraud alerts: initial alerts, which remain on your credit report for 90 days, and extended alerts, which remain for seven years. To request an extended alert you will need to provide an identity theft report.

Once you have filed a fraud alert you may access your credit report. Review this for discrepancies. Unfortunately, credit agencies are not legally bound to observe fraud alerts.

Contact your local police department, and the department where the theft occurred, to file a report.

If you are contacted by a debt-collection agency, inform them of the theft. Request contact information for the creditor that hired them and contact them directly.

If your social security number has been misused, contact the Social Security Administration. Before you decide to change your social security number, remember that it will be difficult to separate your identity from the originally issued number.

If cheques have been stolen inform your bank, close your account and contact the major check-verification firms (Certegy at 1-800-437-5120 and Telecheck at 1-800-710-9898). You should also contact SCAN, a national database that tracks bad cheques, at 1-800-296-0170. Finally, call Chex Systems at 1-800-428-9623 for a copy of your consumer report, which lists accounts opened in your name.

If you have a landline, contact your telephone company. Provide a password, and instruct the company not to change your service without it. Do the same at your state's Public Utility Commission.

If you have a cell phone, call your service provider as well as the Federal Communications Commission at 1-888-CALLFCC.

Identity thieves may change your address to facilitate the delivery of fraudulently purchased merchandise. If you suspect this, notify your postal inspector through your local post office.

If you think that a driver's license has been established in your name, contact your state's Department of Motor Vehicles.

To determine if a passport has been created in your name, contact the U.S. Department of State Passport Services Office at Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section, 1111-19th Street, NW, Suite 500, Washington, DC 20036. Their phone number is (202)955-0430.

If bankruptcy has been filed in your name contact the U.S. Trustee at the Department of Justice in the region where the bankruptcy was filed. You may require an attorney to navigate your recovery from false bankruptcy.

If tax fraud has been committed in your name, contact the IRS at 1-877-777-4778.

If criminal violations have occurred in your name, your Attorney General can provide information to help you clear your name.

Reclaiming your identity can be time-consuming and expensive. Remain vigilant even after issues have been resolved. Request copies of your credit report regularly and review them carefully. Making an aggressive effort to protect yourself is far easier than recovering from the theft of your identity or your businesses.

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