What to Do After Identity Theft

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Identity theft occurs when a person takes someone elseís personal information and uses it for financial gain, such as by getting credit cards in the victimís name and running up debt under that personís name while benefiting from the purchases. Identity theft can have a significant and adverse effect on a personís credit and financial stability.

Effect of Identity Theft

Identity theft often takes years and thousands of dollars to resolve. While there are a number of laws and regulations related to this crime and how to reclaim oneís identity, it is important to act quickly by taking advantage of these laws and regulations. Doing so speeds up the process and makes the attempt to recover oneís identity less expensive.

Responding to Identity Theft

When a person discovers that he or she is the victim of identity theft, there are a number of steps to take as soon as possible. Taking these steps quickly can help mitigate the effects of identity theft and reduce the amount of time that it will take to fully recover oneís identity.

Contact the Credit Bureaus

The immediate step to take after becoming the victim of identity theft is to contact the three major credit reporting agencies. These are Equifax, Experian and TransUnion. Once these credit bureaus are contacted, a fraud alert should be placed on each credit report. Even if the initial contact regarding this request is made through the telephone, the notice should be sent via mail with a return receipt requested to ensure proof that the mail was delivered. You should keep a copy of this request and the signed card that comes back with the mailed correspondence.

Contact the Companies Where Accounts Were Opened

The next step is to contact each company where an account was fraudulently opened. The business may have a security or fraud prevention department that is the best point of contact. The company should be made aware that you were the victim of identity theft and that you did not personally open or authorize the account. You should also instruct them to close the account immediately. All communication should be completed in a written form and kept for safekeeping. Certified mail, return receipt requested ensures that you have the proof necessary to show that the company received this communication. It is important to follow up with each company to ensure that each account has been closed and the unauthorized debts are discharged. This process alone may take a substantial amount of time, depending on the damage that was done.

File a Police Report

It is critical to file a police report regarding the identity theft. Two reports may need to be made: one with the victimís local police department and one with the law enforcement agency where the identity theft occurred. You should cooperate with any investigation that ensues. The rights and remedies related to the resolution of identity theft are often linked with whether you have completed this step or not. Additionally, many companies may not agree to discharge debt unless there is proof that identity theft was the real reason for the debt. They may require a copy of the police report.

Contact the Federal Trade Commission

You should also report the theft to the Federal Trade Commission. This can be completed online at www.ftc.gov. Make a copy of the report and keep it for your records. You may need to refer to it periodically. You should also give a copy of this report to the law enforcement agencies that you reported the identity theft.

Contact a Lawyer

Individuals who suspect that their identity has been stolen should contact a lawyer who can assist with the case. The process of recovering oneís own identity can be difficult and complex. Many individuals do not realize that their identity has been stolen for months or years after the identity was first stolen. During this time, an identity thief may have worked under the victimís Social Security Number, not paid taxes on these earnings, opened multiple credit accounts or even bought a car or home. In order to combat these effects, it is important to talk to a legal representative who can help navigate this complex process. A private lawyer may be able to help track down when the identity theft occurred and work to make sure that this person is held criminally and civilly responsible for the damage that he or she has caused by stealing your identity.

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Disclaimer: While every effort has been made to ensure the accuracy of this publication, it is not intended to provide legal advice as individual situations will differ and should be discussed with an expert and/or lawyer.

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