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How Identity Theft Works

If It Happens To You

The Credit Bureaus

Credit Information Services - Consumer Fraud Div.
P.O. Box 105496
Atlanta, Georgia 30348-5496
Tel: (800) 997-2493

P.O. Box 2104
Allen, Texas 75013-2104
Tel: (888) EXPERIAN (397-3742)

Fraud Victim Assistance Dept.
P.O. Box 390
Springfield, PA 19064-0390
Tel: (800) 680-7289

What if you find out through a phone call from a creditor, a review of your credit report, or even a visit from the police, that your identity has been stolen. The first thing to do is report the crime to the police and get a copy of your police report or case number. Most credit card companies, banks, and others may ask you for it in order to make sure a crime has actually occurred.

You should then immediately contact your credit card issuers, close your existing accounts and get replacement cards with new account numbers. Make sure you request that the old account reflect that it was "closed at consumer's request" for credit report purposes. It is also smart to follow up your telephone conversation with letters to the credit card companies that summarize your request in writing.

Close any accounts the thief has opened in your name. If you open new accounts yourself, make sure you request that passwords be put on those accounts. As with any password, make sure you use something that is not obvious to others. Don't use your mother's maiden name, the last four digits of your social security number, or anything else that would be obvious.

Next, call the fraud units of the three credit reporting bureaus and report the theft of your credit cards and/or numbers. Ask that your accounts be flagged with a "fraud alert." This usually means that someone can't set up a new account in your name without the creditor calling you at a phone number you specify. Verify with the credit bureau representative you speak with that this will happen, and provide them with the number at which you want to be reached. The down side of this is that you won't be able to get "instant credit" at department stores. This flag, also known as a "victim's statement," is the best way to prevent unauthorized accounts.

Make sure to keep a log of all conversations with authorities and financial entities, and keep copies of any documentation you provide to them.

If your social security number has been used, notify the Social Security Administration's Office of Inspector General.

File a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by contacting the FTC's Consumer Response Center. The FTC is the federal clearinghouse for complaints by victims of identity theft. The FTC does not have the authority to bring criminal cases, but it does assist victims by providing information to help them resolve the financial and other problems that can result from identity theft. The FTC also may refer victim complaints to other appropriate government agencies and private organizations for further action.

The FTC also has an online identity theft compliant form that can help them gather information about identity theft and lead to law enforcement actions. The form can be found here.