Identity Theft FAQ
- How can I tell if my identity has been stolen?
- What should I do if my identity is stolen?
- What is the cost of Identity Theft?
- What is a fraud alert?
- What should I do if my purse is stolen?
How can I tell if my identity has been stolen?
Be aware of the signs. Most people realize their identity has been stolen when they see unexpected charges, withdrawals, or transactions on their credit card statements or credit reports. Clearly, this can be a sign that your identity has been stolen, but please be aware of other tell-tale signs...
For example, if you know your finances to be in good standing and are denied credit for which you apply, a red flag should be raised in your head. Immediately seek out the reason for the unexpected denial to make sure your identity has not been compromised. Similarly, if you are unexpectedly approved for credit for which you didn't apply, don't hesitate to find out why.
If you are unexpectedly contacted by creditors or collection agencies concerning old accounts or accounts of which you are not aware, take action right away to find out if a thief has used your identity without your knowledge. Along those same lines, if you receive a credit card statement for an account of which you weren't aware, act right away to clarify the situation.
If you know you're supposed to receive a bill or statement and it doesn't arrive, it's very tempting to look the other way. However, that could also be a sign that an identity thief has changed your mailing address.
Simply put, you should be aware of your financial standing and be proactive in protecting it. Any anomalies or unexpected events should be researched quickly to minimize the harm done to your identity.
What should I do if my identity is stolen?
So your identity has been stolen. Do not fret - you are not alone. In fact you've now joined the other 10 Million Americans that are victimized by identity theft each year. Your financial future now depends on how you react...
As you work your way through these steps, be sure to document each step. Having documentation can help you clarify problems if errors should resurface in the future. Remember, it's your credit and identity - chances are that you'll be the most motivated party in protecting it.
Step 1 - Contact institutions that gave out unauthorized services
Immediately notify all the companies that issued credit, money, or other unauthorized services to id criminals. Those institutions usually have a fraud department which should help you. Discuss the option of freezing the fraudulent accounts.
Step 2 - Notify Credit Reporting Agencies
Contact the big three credit reporting agencies in the United States:
Credit Agency Fraud Dept Phone Number Experian 888.397.3742 Equifax 800.525.6285 TransUnion 800.680.7289
When talking to the representative, request the following:
- a copy of your credit report
- placement of a fraud alert on your credit account
After receiving your various credit reports, review them to make sure identity thieves have not opened accounts or racked up debt using your identity.
Also discuss the option of a security freeze. This option varies from state to state and requires you to do some planning for your credit.
Step 3 - Notify Law Enforcement
File a report with your local police department. You should cite this report when corresponding with various institutions concerning the crime committed against you.
You may also choose to contact the Federal Trade Commission, FTC, at 877.438.4338. Please note that the FTC will not do anything for your individual case. However, the information you provide them may lead to an arrest, which serves the greater good.
Step 4 - Notify Issuers of Compromised Documents
Identity thieves steal your identity. Obvious, right? Maybe to some, but what does that mean?
In a simple sense, most government and commercial entities view us as units represented by a number. When a thief obtains your various identifying numbers, they can steal your "identity" as seen by these entities. When that happens, you must clean up your numbers, aka clean up your identity.
Mail fraud - Notify the United States Postal Inspector if your address has been used to commit identity theft. Also contact them if you suspect an identity thief is using your address for their own malicious devices.
Social Security number fraud - If your Social Security number has been involved with an identity theft crime, contact the FTC at 877.438.4338. You should order an earnings and benefits statement if you suspect someone is using your Social Security number illegally.
Driver's license fraud - Notify your state's Department of Motor Vehicles if your license has been used illegally.
Passport fraud - Contact the U.S. State Department if your passport has been compromised. Once you let them know of your situation, they can monitor any action on your passport.
Bankruptcy filed using your identity - Contact the U.S. Trustee Program for the area in which the bankruptcy claim was filed.
Business fraud - Notify the National Fraud Information Center at 800.876.7060 if the incident occurred as part of a business scam.
If your specific circumstance isn't listed, just contact the entity that issued you your compromised document.
What is the cost of Identity Theft?
We know identity theft is a rising cost in the United States. In 2007, 10 million Americans were victims of an identity theft crime costing us $57 billion as a whole. That's an alarming number and difficult to comprehend. So, what is the cost for an individual?
We've seen varying numbers. From what we can gather, the average victim can expect to see over $6,300 illegally charged in their name. The average cost to the individual is between $400 and $2,000. However, these values do not capture the stress, time, and bureaucracy involved with recovering your identity.
Average resolution time once you've reported the theft is between 40 and 600 hours, but the subsequent time spent on verifying future financial statements lasts much longer than that. Confidence in "the system" may never be restored.
Interestingly, the number of distinct individuals being subjected to identity theft is decreasing. However, the amount of money charged per individual is going up, hence the growing cost to the nation as a whole. So, if the trends continue and you become a victim of identity theft, odds are that you'll be subjected to more financial pain than victims last year.
Depending on your personality and patience, the greatest post-identity theft cost may be the time spent in phone calls, renewing official documents, and overall stress. It's hard to put a dollar value on these items, but trust us, they're expensive. The best way to avoid the situation is to proactively invest in identity protection. You can find the cost of protection on our comparison chart of LifeLock, Identity Guard and TrustedID.
You may want to read our reviews as well to see which service is right for you. (Located top right on every page)
What is a fraud alert?
A fraud alert is an alert placed in your credit file that lets creditors know that you have a good faith suspicion that you have been or are about to become a victim of fraud or related crime, including identity theft. It requires creditors, per the FACT Act passed by Congress, to take reasonable measures to verify your identity prior to approving the credit request.
When a fraud alert is placed in your credit file your phone number(s) are included and a simple call to you from the creditor is considered reasonable measures for the verification of your identity. Though a creditor is required to verify your identity they are not required to phone you though this is typical practice. If a creditor doesn't phone you they would have to verify your identity by taking other reasonable measures. A simple ID check would not be considered reasonable measures as you have asserted that you have at least a suspicion that you will become an identity theft victim. This could obviously include an identity thief acquiring identification in your name.
For more information see our article fraud alerts vs credit monitoring.
What should I do if my purse is stolen?
A stolen purse or lost wallet gives a criminal all the details and documentation they need to take over your identity and even your credit accounts. Often criminals will sale your information to other thieves who may wait up to two years before initiating an attack against you. Before you panic just follow these 10 steps to protect yourself from any wrong doing. Keep in mind though that there is no full proof protection from identity theft. Here is what you should do if your purse was stolen. Obviously this applies to stolen wallets as well.
1. Call your credit card and ATM card issuers.
2. Open a report with local Police or Sheriff
3. Call all three major credit reporting agencies and request a fraud alert be put on your account.
4. Contact your bank or credit union's fraud department and report the event.
5. Order and begin a vigilant review of your credit reports
6. Report a missing driver’s license to your state’s department of motor vehicles.
7. If your keys are missing (Auto or Home) change the locks on your home and car.
8. Begin a written list (inventory) of every item in the stolen wallet or lost purse (Needed for Police)
9. Purchase identity theft insurance.
10. Call these check verification services to stop someone from using one of your checks at a merchant's cash register.
* TeleCheck 1-800-710-9898 or 927-0188
* Certegy Inc. 1-800-770-3792
* International Check Services 1-800-631-9656
More detailed information on each of these steps can be found in our article titled Stolen Purse, Lost Wallet? What to do, step-by-step.