Monday, September 15, 2008

Money Monday: Identity Theft Part 3

The past two Mondays we have discussed identify theft and how to protect ourselves. This week I will discuss what to do if you believe you are a victim of identity theft.

First, contact the fraud department of the major credit bureaus. Equifax fraud department can be reached at 800-525-6285; Experian fraud department can be reached at 888-397-3742; and Transunion fraud department can be reached at 800-680-7289. Let them know that you suspect, or know, that your identity has been stolen and that you would like a "fraud alert" placed on your credit file. You can have an "initial alert" placed if you suspect that your identity was stolen or if your identifying information has been compromised. This will stay on your cresit report for at least 90 days and entitles you to one free credit report. An "extended alert" remains on your report for 7 years. You will need to provide an "identity theft report" to the credit reporting company. You will also be entitled to 2 free credit reports within 12 months. Any business who checks your credit must verify your identity before issuing credit. When you speak with the fraud department be sure to request your free credit report and then carefully review it to identify any unauthorized accounts or charges.

You also want to place a "security freeze" on your credit file by contacting the three major credit reporting agencies. *NOTE*: These are different phone numbers than those used to contact the fraud departments. Transunion: PO Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834 or 800-916-8800; Equifax: PO Box 105788, Atlanta, GA 30348 or 800-685-1111; and Experian: PO Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013 or 888-397-3742. It does not cost any money to have a security freeze placed on your file.

Next, for any accounts that have been fraudulently opened or accessed, immediately contact the security department of the financial institution or creditor. be sure to follow up in writing as well. Close all accounts that have been fraudulently accessed or opened and open new accounts that are password protected.

Identity theft and fraud are both felonies punishable by law. Be sure to file a police report as soon as possible. Keep a copy of the report to give to creditors, financial institutions, and the credit reporting agencies as proof that a crime was committed. Submitting a police report can block the reporting of fraudulent data on your credit report.

You will also want to contact the ID Theft Clearinghouse at 877-438-4338 to report the theft. This is managed and maintained by the FTC (Federal Trade Commission) and has counselors available to provide additional consumer advice. The Clearinghouse also serves as a central database for law enforcement of identity theft complaints.

If you have had personal checks stolen or lost, notify the bank immediately and have a "stop payment" issued for all the missing checks. You may also contact the major check verification companies to request that they notify retailers not to accept the lost/stolen checks or you can ask your bank to notify the check verificaiton service it uses. The 3 major check verification companies are: Certegy, Inc at 800-437-5120; International Check Services at 800-526-5380; and TeleCheck at 800-710-9898.

If your government -issued id (license, non-driver id, etc) has been stolen, contact the issuing agency and follow their procedures for cancelling the document and getting a replacement. If you believe the thief used the mail to steal your identity, contat the US Postal Service.

Senior citizens and disabled persons (at least in NY state) may be eligible for crime victim compensation to cover out-of-pocket expenses for financial counseling. NY residents (seniors or disabled) should contact the NYS Crime Victims Board at 800-247-8035.

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