In the United States, the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998 made identity theft a federal crime and recognized individuals whose identities were compromised as the real victims of the crime. Previously, creditors were considered the only victims of identity theft. The law also provides for restitution to be paid to victims. Violations of this law are handled by the United States Secret Service, the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration, the United States Postal Inspection Service, and local offices of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
There are also many state laws that specifically target identity criminals. When such specific laws are not in effect, different state of local laws may cover the criminal actions of identity thieves. As a victim, you may bring either criminal or civil lawsuits against identity thieves and try to receive compensation for your suffering. If your credit has been seriously damaged, or if you are faced with legal action or a criminal record as a result of the identity theft, free legal aid programs are available to help you.
Being a victim of identity theft is a frightening and difficult experience. It has serious financial and emotional consequences that could potentially last for years. You must take charge of your own situation and work diligently to get your life back. Here you will find information to help you understand the nature of identity theft, the steps to take to report the crime, the laws that govern identity crime, and the public and private entities that can help you through this troubling situation.
Signs that You May Be a Victim of Identity Theft
What make identity theft so insidious is that it may take some time before you even know you’re a victim. Checking your credit and banking statements regularly can help you discover an identity theft in a timely manner so can take the necessary steps.
If you experience any of the following, you should investigate the situation further – you may be a victim of identity theft.
- Failure to receive credit card, other financial statements
- Unexpected denial of credit, loan or service
- Missing credit or debit card, or checks missing from your checkbook
- Receive unexpected bills for health care, card accounts, or services you didn’t receive
- Bank statement shows withdrawals you didn’t make
- Credit card statement shows charges for things you didn’t buy
- Your credit report shows new accounts you didn’t open, inquiries from businesses you don’t know
- You get collection calls about debts that aren’t yours or accounts you never opened
- You receive higher interest rates than you expect
- You get strange email or a thank-you gift from a business you don’t know
- Denial of health care services because records show you’ve reached the benefits limit or because records show a condition you don’t have
- Receive notice from the IRS that multiple tax returns were filed in your name
- Receive notice from a company you do business with notifying you of a data breach that compromised your information
- Receive a phone call or letter notifying you of approval or denial of credit for accounts you didn’t request
- Receive a phone call or letter from your bank telling you of an irregularity with your account
- A warrant is out for your arrest for a crime you are unaware of
- You find mistakes in your Social Security statement
- You can’t access your email or other online account because your user name and password have been changed without your knowlede
Steps to Take Immediately after Becoming a Victim of Identity Theft
The initial steps to take after first discovering your personal information has been stolen or compromised are essentially the same, regardless of the type of identity crime perpetrated upon you. That said, there are some involved in dealing with less common types of identity theft, such as taxes, government benefits, medical care, and child identity theft. Also, if you need to deal with a nationwide specialty consumer agency, such as those handling rental housing or employment records, special information is required.
While federal law limits your liability in cases where an ATM, credit, or debit card is stolen or lost, the actual extent of your liability may hinge on how rapidly the theft or loss of the card is reported. If you act quickly, you may be able to limit the damage done by the identity thief.
The first three things you should do when you suspected you’ve been hit by financial identity theft are to file an initial fraud alert, order your credit reports, and create an identity theft report.
Create the initial fraud alert
An initial fraud alert will remain on your credit report for a period of at least ninety (90) days. You have the right under the Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) to have a credit reporting agency put an initial fraud alert on your credit report if you suspect you are a victim of identity theft or are about to be so victimized. You only need to contact one of the three national credit reporting agencies (Equifax, TransUnion, Experian) about your request, since that agency must then inform the other two.
Order your credit reports
You have the right to a free credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies once your initial fraud alert has been placed. When you call the credit reporting company, you will be informed about your rights and the procedure for getting a free copy of your report. When you order the report, ask the company to display only the last four digits of your Social Security on the report.
Create an identity theft report
This report contains allegations of an identity theft and is a copy of an official report you file with the appropriate law enforcement agency regarding the theft. (This report also subjects you to criminal penalties if you file false information.) The report is used to remove inaccurate information related to the identity theft from your credit record. It prevents any company from “refurnishing” the erroneous information back to a credit reporting agency and prevents companies from selling the bad debts arising from the identity theft to collections agencies.
As soon as you provide the report to a credit reporting agency, that agency must block any reporting of information resulting from the identity theft from being added to your credit report within four (4) business days. An identity theft report is also required later on when you file an Extended Fraud Alert, which will place a fraud alert on your credit record for seven (7) years for filing an extended fraud alert and when you request documents related to fraudulent transactions from the affected businesses.
After you complete these first steps, you can additional action to mitigate the damage caused by the identity criminal by
- reporting the identity theft to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and filing an FTC Identity Theft Affidavit
- filing a police report • place an extended fraud alert on your account
- place a credit freeze on your account
And always keep a good record of everything you do.
Create a log to keep track of all telephone calls you make regarding the identity theft incident. Record the date of the call and the phone numbers of every contact. It’s a good idea to be well prepared when talking with agency representatives, so write down your questions before the call. Then, write down the answers you receive.
When communicating with authorities by postal mail, always send the documents by certified mail and request a return receipt.
Create a good system for filing all relevant documents dealing with the identity theft. Retain all original documents and send copies of them when his information is required. Never send the original documents. It’s a good idea to make copies of your identification to include with the documents as well.
Create a timeline of important dates so you won’t miss any crucial filing deadlines. For example, list the date by which you must file a request, the date by which a company must provide you with a response, and the date by which you must provide a follow-up.
There are pro-active actions you can take if you believe you are a victim of identity theft.
- Contact the three chief credit bureaus (Equifax, Experian, Trans Union), both by telephone and in writing, to inform them of the suspected theft.
- Request that a fraud alert and a victim’s statement be placed in their credit file.
- Get copies of your credit reports • Change passwords and access codes for your financial accounts, close accounts that have been fraudulently used, and file reports of the crime with the local agencies responsible for handling identity crimes in their immediate area.
- Carefully document everything you do
- Follow up all calls with letters; keep copies of all letters
- Contact your local bar association or legal aid office to obtain further information or to ask about any free legal help available to help you recover from the damage inflicted by an identity theft.
To discuss your identity theft experience, visit our Victim Assistance Forums Page and join the conversation.
For more information and additional help, visit the websites of the
The Federal Trade Commission is the nation’s consumer protection agency. The FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection works for consumers to prevent fraud, deception, and unfair business practices in the marketplace. It seeks to enhance consumer confidence by enforcing federal laws that protect consumers, empower consumers with free information to help them exercise their rights and spot and avoid fraud and deception, and handles information requests and complaints about fraud or identity theft.
The Identity Theft Assistance Center is a consumer advocate on identity fraud and the financial services industry’s identity management solution center. It is an affiliate of The Financial Services Roundtable and is supported by the industry as a free service for our customers. Since 2004, ITAC has helped tens of thousands of consumers restore their identity.
This nonprofit organization offers victim assistance at no charge to consumers throughout the United States. Its mission is to educate consumers, corporations, government agencies, and other organizations on best practices for fraud and identity theft detection, reduction and mitigation. It also acts as a national resource on consumer issues related to cybersecurity, data breaches, social media, fraud, scams and other issues.