What should I do if someone is using my identity?



Okay, so the unthinkable has happened—your identity has been stolen and you need to act fast to minimize potential liability and damage to your good credit.  Here’s a list of things you need to do as quickly as possible.  Be sure to keep a record of all the contacts you make, including the dates.

1. Place fraud alerts on your credit reports.

This makes it more difficult for additional accounts to be opened in your name.  Potential creditors will be on notice of the increased likelihood of fraud and will have to either contact you or use “reasonable policies and procedures” to verify your identity.  Contact any one of the consumer reporting agencies to initiate a fraud alert.  The company you contact is required to contact the other two.  You should receive a confirmation from each informing you that the fraud alert has been placed on your report.  A fraud alert is not to be confused with a credit freeze, which not only completely prevents issuance of new credit, but also blocks access to your credit report from all inquirers except those with a preexisting relationship.  Consider using a credit freeze when the fraud is extensive.  Credit freeze laws vary by state, and the Consumer's Union provides a state-by-state guide.  Use the following information to contact one of the credit reporting agencies:

TransUnion: 1-800-680-7289; www.transunion.com; Fraud Victim Assistance Division, P.O. Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790

Equifax: 1-800-525-6285; www.equifax.com; P.O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); www.experian.com; P.O. Box 9554, Allen, TX 75013

2. Obtain copies of your credit reports from the three agencies.

After a fraud alert has been placed on your account, you can order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three credit reporting agencies listed above.  When you receive the reports, look through each carefully and note anything that appears to be incorrect (e.g., accounts you didn’t open, addresses you’ve never used, inquiries from companies you haven’t contacted).  Follow each agency’s instructions for reporting any discrepancies.   

3. Close any compromised accounts. 

If you believe that someone else has access to an account (perhaps even opened it without your knowledge), close it.  The fastest way to do this is to call the credit card company or bank; there should be a customer service number on the back of each card.  Ask for a paper or email confirmation of your request to close the account due to fraud. Promptly notifying the financial institution of the fraudulent activity triggers automatic liability protection.  For additional information on your protection against fraud liability, see the credit and debit cards page.  If you don’t receive a confirmation from the financial institution, send a certified letter so that you can prove the date upon which you provided notice of fraud.

4. Change your passwords. 

Change the passwords or personal identification numbers (PINs) associated with your uncompromised accounts, and use new passwords and PINs for any new account you open.  Remember to choose something that’s difficult to guess!

5. Dispute unauthorized transactions.

Comb through your credit card and bank statements.  Dispute any and all charges that you did not authorize.  You can typically initiate a dispute through the online account management website.  For further assistance, call the customer service number on the back of your card.

6. Ask for a confirmation letter. 

Ask the involved financial institutions to provide you with a letter confirming that the compromised accounts have been closed and that you will not be held liable for any fraudulent charges.

7. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission and contact the local police.

If you want to help prevent identity theft, you can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form, you can call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline at 1-877-ID-THEFT, or you can write to Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580.  When you contact your city or state law enforcement officials, you can offer to provide a copy of your FTC Complaint for incorporation in the police report. 

8.  Continue to monitor your credit report regularly and closely.

Ensure that fraudulent activity does not recur.  If the past fraud is affecting your credit, initiate disputes with the credit reporting agencies.  You should have a confirmation letter from the financial institutions confirming that the accounts were closed due to fraud.  Keep in mind that a fraud alert or credit freeze will not stop identity thieves from opening new accounts in your name that do not require a credit check.  Monitor your credit report for claims of unpaid bills for services such as wireless telephone accounts.

9. For more information about what to do when your identity has been stolen, contact the Federal Trade Commission.