Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Tuesday's Tip: Identity Theft

Last April I had the misfortune of being robbed at the zoo. Yes you read that right – the zoo. It was during Spring Break and Jamie and I decided to be nice mommies and take all 5 of the kids to the St. Louis zoo.

A man grabbed my purse as Jamie and I were carelessly taking pictures of all the girls with the beautiful tulips. I ran after the man (a huge no no, especially as we found out later the man had a gun) while all the other people stood and watched me screaming and running, but was too late as he hopped in a get-a-way car.

It turned out after a very long, stressful day and a ride in two police cars, one of the men were apprehended in a stolen car chase. They found my purse with a few of my credit cards and my cell phone on the guy. Everything else had been already dumped or taken. They also found several other items so I was not the only victim in this.

While the police officers were kind and helped me call and cancel all my credit cards, and the bank helped with our accounts, someone still managed to pass almost $5,000 in bad checks under my name in three states in a matter of three days. Thank goodness for the electronic check processing company because after three days a block was placed on all my checks so they were unable to pass anymore. (of course I still have a heck of a time writing checks in some places, but better safe than sorry)

Luckily I had a stop payment on the checks so they never got the money out of my account, but they did still get their stuff and screw over the stores. And of course I am the one carrying the burden of making sure all the proper paperwork is filled out and working with the places checks were written to avoid it going on my credit.

So today's Tuesday's Tips are what to do if your personal information has been stolen or if you think you are a victim of identity theft.

If you are a victim of identity theft, take the following four steps as soon as possible, and keep a record with the details of your conversations and copies of all correspondence.

1. Place a fraud alert on your credit reports, and review your credit reports.

Fraud alerts can help prevent an identity thief from opening any more accounts in your name. Contact the toll-free fraud number of any of the three consumer reporting companies below to place a fraud alert on your credit report. You only need to contact one of the three companies to place an alert. The company you call is required to contact the other two, which will place an alert on their versions of your report, too. If you do not receive a confirmation from a company, you should contact that company directly to place a fraud alert.

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

Experian: 1-888-EXPERIAN (397-3742); P.O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013

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

Once you place the fraud alert in your file, you're entitled to order one free copy of your credit report from each of the three consumer reporting companies, and, if you ask, only the last four digits of your Social Security number will appear on your credit reports. Once you get your credit reports, review them carefully. Look for inquiries from companies you haven't contacted, accounts you didn't open, and debts on your accounts that you can't explain. Check that information, like your Social Security number, address(es), name or initials, and employers are correct. If you find fraudulent or inaccurate information, get it removed.

Continue to check your credit reports periodically, especially for the first year after you discover the identity theft, to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred.

2. Close the accounts that you know, or believe, have been tampered with or opened fraudulently.

Call and speak with someone in the security or fraud department of each company. Follow up in writing, and include copies (NOT originals) of supporting documents. It's important to notify credit card companies and banks in writing. Send your letters by certified mail, return receipt requested, so you can document what the company received and when. Keep a file of your correspondence and enclosures.

When you open new accounts, use new Personal Identification Numbers (PINs) and passwords. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your Social Security number or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers.

If the identity thief has made charges or debits on your accounts, or has fraudulently opened accounts, ask the company for the forms to dispute those transactions:

  • For charges and debits on existing accounts, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms. Write to the company at the address given for "billing inquiries," NOT the address for sending your payments.
  • For new unauthorized accounts, you can either file a dispute directly with the company or file a report with the police and provide a copy, called an “Identity Theft Report,” to the company.
    • If you want to file a dispute directly with the company, and do not want to file a report with the police, ask the representative to send you the company's fraud dispute forms.
    • However, filing a report with the police and then providing the company with an Identity Theft Report will give you greater protection. For example, if the company has already reported these unauthorized accounts or debts on your credit report, an Identity Theft Report will require them to stop reporting that fraudulent information.

Once you have resolved your identity theft dispute with the company, ask for a letter stating that the company has closed the disputed accounts and has discharged the fraudulent debts. This letter is your best proof if errors relating to this account reappear on your credit report or you are contacted again about the fraudulent debt.

3. File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission.

You can file a complaint with the FTC using the online complaint form located on their website; or call the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline, toll-free: 1-877-ID-THEFT (438-4338); TTY: 1-866-653-4261; or write Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580. Be sure to call the Hotline to update your complaint if you have any additional information or problems.

By sharing your identity theft complaint with the FTC, you will provide important information that can help law enforcement officials across the nation track down identity thieves and stop them. The FTC can refer victims' complaints to other government agencies and companies for further action, as well as investigate companies for violations of laws the agency enforces.

Additionally, you can provide a printed copy of your online Complaint form to the police to incorporate into their police report. The printed FTC ID Theft Complaint, in conjunction with the police report, can constitute an Identity Theft Report and entitle you to certain protections. This Identity Theft Report can be used to (1) permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report; (2) ensure that debts do not reappear on your credit report; (3) prevent a company from continuing to collect debts that result from identity theft; and (4) place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.

4. File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.

Call your local police department and tell them that you want to file a report about your identity theft. Ask them if you can file the report in person. If you cannot, ask if you can file a report over the Internet or telephone.

If the police are reluctant to take your report, ask to file a "Miscellaneous Incident" report, or try another jurisdiction, like your state police. You also can check with your state Attorney General's office to find out if state law requires the police to take reports for identity theft.

Tell them that you need a copy of the report to dispute the fraudulent accounts and debts created by the identity thief.

Hopefully you never fall victim to identity theft, but in case you do follow these tips and it will make the process much easier. I wish a year ago someone had given me this information.


Jamie said...

memories.......nothing but memories.

lil ole' me..... said...

Oh no! I am so sorry that you had your purse stolen, and at my "home zoo"!

The tips you posted are very helpful! Thanks!!!