I found out that I had been a victim of Identity Theft a few months before our wedding (in the thick of planning one of the biggest days of our lives!) I received a phone call from someone who worked at a check-into-cash loan store and he wanted to know when I was going to pay for the loan I took out. “Is this a joke?” I wondered. “I haven’t once set foot in one of your loan stores, so I think you have the wrong person.” “This was actually a loan you took out online, so you didn’t have to actually go into one of our locations. It’s now past due and we will be sending it to collections. How do you want to handle this?”
Here are the steps that I took in my journey to becoming an Identity Theft Victim to an eventual Identity Theft Survivor!
1. Don’t panic.
It’s important to keep a level head in order to summon all your energies and creativity to fight Identity Theft. Of course, this was easier said than done. I admit there were times when I felt very emotional and succumbed to the, “Why me?!?” defeatist tendencies, but I knew I had to put my big-girl panties on. It certainly wasn’t the end of the world – and if you want to get real, Identity Theft really is the epitome of “First-World Problems”. Keeping
calm will make sure that you are dotting the I’s and crossing the T’s. If there’s a time to be detail-oriented, this would be it.
2. Gather all of your 3 credit reports from each of the Credit Reporting Agencies.
Contact the Credit Reporting Agencies here:
Experian – www.experian.com
Equifax – www.equifax.com
TransUnion – www.transunion.com
It’s important to get your complete credit report from all three Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs). A fraudulent account, for example, might only get reported in one of the CRA’s. When you do have your credit reports on hand, highlight all the fraudulent accounts and make sure to get the necessary contact information for the creditors listed.
Consequently, you can also place your credit report on Fraud Alert through the CRAs. By doing this, it will alert all future (legitimate) creditors that in order to approve any new lines of credit, they need to get your verbal consent over the phone. One "perk" you do get (Ok, I can have a sense of humor about this now) when you are a victim of Identity Theft, you are automatically eligible to get your credit report from the Credit Reporting Agencies twice (once every 6 months) so you should take advantage of it!
3. Contact the Federal Trade Commission and file an Identity Theft Affidavit.
Federal Trade Commission – www.ftc.gov
The Federal Trade Commission is a government agency that helps to track and report cases of Identity Theft for consumers. They will ask you to complete an Identity Theft Affidavit that you can present to the Police to aid their investigation. Depending on the severity of your case, they will either recommend that you contact the Social Security office in order to facilitate changing your Social Security identification number.
4. File a Police Report.
When I first learned of my Identity Theft case, my first instinct was to go to the police and report the crime.
Naively, I went to my local police station to report my case. To my surprise, the officer on duty was not very sympathetic to my case nor was he very helpful. He said that there are thousands of identity theft cases reported everyday and that they do not recommend filing a police report because it doesn’t ever get investigated. I, naturally, felt very defeated. Wasn’t this the place I was supposed to find help at?
After doing research on the matter, I found out that the more serious your case, the more you need to file a police report. Further, it is a RIGHT of every citizen to be able to file a report despite what overwhelmed police officers would like you to believe. So off I went and DEMANDED that I get a police report. Fortunately, this time around, I met with a more sympathetic officer who informed me that filing a police report is now easier than ever and I would just need to go online to fill out the necessary information. (Thank you LAPD!) As soon as I got home, I filled out the online police report generator and within the next business day, I had my police report on hand! I would check with your local police department if this online service is available in your district. It makes life much easier, trust me!
5. Meet with your Bank and alert them of any potential breach with your accounts.
Banks nowadays employ a lot of security protocols to help protect their customers. It took a quick visit to our local Bank of America location and soon I was sitting with one of their managers. Together, we went through all the recent transactions on all of our accounts to make sure that there were no fraudulent charges. Once we had made sure that all the charges were legitimate, they gave me the choice of either opening up a new account or monitoring my existing account. Just to be on the safe side, I chose to open up a new account. Additionally, they made sure to add extra security features to my account (including a special verbal password that I now have to share with them every time I make a transaction in person or over the phone.) All this, of course, made me feel extra secure. Still, I do monitor my account activity very closely. If there’s anything I’ve learned, it’s that you can never be too sure.
6. Call all major credit cards and let them know that you have been a victim of Identity Theft.
Apart from your bank, I would also make a list of all your major credit cards (and their issuing banks). I would give them a call to let them know that you have been a victim of Identity Theft. Once you notify your credit card company, they will either send you a different credit card or add extra security features to your existing account. At the time, I called CapitalOne and told them that I am currently dealing with Identity Theft issues. They took note of my information and made sure to send me an email with all pending charges to my account. Fortunately, I didn’t have any issues with my credit cards! Whew!
7. Contact all fraudulent creditors and send them a copy of your FTC Affidavit and Police Report.
This is where the real leg work starts. In my case, I had to dispute more than 12 different fraudulent accounts – from a store credit card at WalMart to an online PayPal account. Yikes - I certainly had my work cut out for me! Chances are, if you’re dealing with a reputable bank, a collection agency, or another lending institution, they will have a designated Identity Theft division. When you get them on the phone, they will probably ask you to send over all your supporting documents (Police Report & FTC Affidavit.) Once they receive it, they will conduct their own investigation by calling the reporting officer who completed your police report and verifying the information included. After they complete their investigation and find that the account is indeed fraudulent, they should delete the account from your credit report. It is very important that you request a physical copy of the result of their investigation and guarantee it in writing that they will delete the fraudulent account from your credit report.
8. Send a Request to Delete Fraudulent Account Letter to the Credit Reporting Agencies, including a
copy of the Police Report, FTC Affidavit, and all Fraudulent Account Confirmations from Creditors.
Once you get verification that the creditors are erasing the fraudulent accounts from your credit reports, make sure that you take the extra step and forward it to the Credit Reporting Agencies. Although the creditors are supposed to send this information to the CRAs directly, you want to be proactive and send the information yourself. You can’t be sure that the creditors will follow through with sending the information like they’re supposed to. Again, now is the time to be as thorough as possible. After all, no one is going to care more about your credit report than you will!
The letter you send the Credit Reporting Agencies should be pretty straight forward. This is not an English paper that will get graded! Here’s a sample letter:
123 Westwood Blvd.
Los Angeles, CA 90000
Attached is a copy of my FTC Affidavit, my Police Report from the Los Angeles Police Department, and a confirmation from XYZ Bank that the Check-Into-Cash account that was opened in my name on January 1, 2014 (and is currently being reported as a Collections Account) is a fraudulent account and should be removed from my credit report immediately. I am also requesting a copy of my updated credit report after you have deleted this fraudulent account from my file.
I appreciate your immediate cooperation,
9. Set up Credit Monitoring Services to know what’s going on with your Credit Report at all times.
When I finally, got all the fraudulent accounts deleted from my credit reports, I vowed that I would be on top of monitoring my credit. You are entitled to get 1 free copy of your credit report from each of the three CRAs every year. All you have to do is go to www.annualcreditreport.com to request it. (As I mentioned earlier, as an Identity Theft victim, you can get your FREE credit report twice per year. You have to go through the CRA's directly to do this.)
Thankfully, there are also FREE resources that you can sign up for to receive instant alerts for any changes to your credit report. Signing up is easy and you can get weekly or monthly updates on your credit file. It's important to note that these are NOT your actual scores, but they are in the neighborhood. To me it's more important to know the recent activity in relation to your credit file:
Credit Karma (TransUnion partner) – www.creditkarma.com
Credit Sesame (Experian partner) – www.creditsesame.com
Quizzle (Equifax partner) – www.quizzle.com
10. If things become too complicated, employ the help of professionals.
I would be the first to tell you that dealing with Identity Theft is a huge task. And if you find that it’s far more
complicated than what you are equipped to handle or have time for (you might just be planning your wedding too!), you can certainly employ the help of services like Lexington Law. Companies like Lexington Law will dispute inaccurate or fraudulent accounts in your credit report. You will incur a fee for their services so please beware of all upfront costs. (It is very cost prohibitive but if you don't want to do the work yourself, you do have an option!) While I have done all of the leg work of cleaning up my credit reports, there was a time when I reached out to Lexington Law to ask about their services (this was a particularly low point for me emotionally). They were incredibly knowledgeable and helped to shed some light into my situation. Ultimately, I decided to go at it myself. That being said, I have also heard of some nightmare situations and if it is too much for you to deal with, there are services that will help you in your time of need.
I have also gained a ton of information on Identity Theft through the help of 2 very important forums:
myFico Forums - www.myFico.com
CreditBoards - www.creditboards.com
If you have any questions dealing with Identity Theft and all other credit issues, chances are these forums will have the answers for you. Members of these two communities are very knowledgeable and are willing to answer all of your questions, if you are willing to put the time to do the research to find the information yourself.
My experience with Identity Theft has been a long, drawn out process. I still deal with it today because I know that it can strike again at any moment. It’s tiring just thinking about all the steps that I have already taken in my journey! Because of this experience, I have learned to value my credit report much more and to make sure that it remains a true reflection of who I am as a responsible consumer. I am very passionate about helping others fight Identity Theft as I have. With determination and sheer force of will, you too can win your battle. I am pulling for you!
Have you been a victim of Identity Theft? What steps have you taken to fight back?