Steps After Learning You are a Victim of Identity Theft

Posted about 5 years ago. Applies to California, 6 helpful votes



Order your credit reports from the major CRAs

When you first learn that someone has opened an account in your name or with your SSN, you must first gather up all the information you can about what other accounts have been opened. The Credit Reporting Agencies (CRAs) have almost all the information you need. Federal Law permits any consumer to order his or her own credit report from the Big Three CRAs once per 12-month period FREE. The link for this is below from the FTC's web site for this. As a victim, you will also be entitled to future credit reports free.


Photocopy and Review Your Credit Reports for Errors

When you receive the reports, PHOTOCOPY them. Do not write on your originals. Then review all of them carefully for anything that you do not recognize as yours. In particular, any accounts that you never authorized, any addresses and names that should not appear for you, and any inquiries by companies that you have not applied for insurance or credit and have no accounts. It is not as much work as it sounds. Take your time and don't take anything for granted. This is a very important step and if you miss anything now, it will affect you in future steps. Start a file folder for each credit reporting agency and for each debt collector or creditor and put everything in a very secure place, because you do not want your credit information to get lost or stolen or handled by anyone else.


Prepare the FTC Identity Theft Complaint and Affidavit

Once you have gone through the reports with a fine tooth comb, go on line to prepare the FTC Identity Theft Complaint and Affidavit form. A link is provided, below. The form can be completed on line and provides room for all problem items in your report that you believe are improper (see previous step) and may be from identity theft. The form can also be used to file a complaint with the FTC. The FTC also advises to "Call the ID Theft Clearinghouse toll-free at 1.877.ID.THEFT (1.877.438.4338) to report the theft. "


Contact Local Law Enforcement for an Official Report

Please contact your local police or sheriff's office for an appointment with someone who knows about identity theft police reports. If you just show up, unannounced, the person who helps you may be unfamiliar with identity theft and so that person may give you a run around or even simply tell you to take a hike, because this was your girlfriend. Bring an extra copy of your credit reports, as you have marked what appears to be improper, and an original and a copy of the FTC ID Theft Form. You need the police or sheriff to prepare a report for identity theft, so you can put this report number on the FTC ID Theft Affidavit (page 5) and sign it with the officer present on page 6. If the local police and sheriff refuse to take a report, then contact either a state agency, such as the State Police, or the U.S. Postal Inspector. This is very important to get a government agency involved in the investigation and report.


Send the Reports and Other Information to the CRAs and Request a Security Freeze

Now that your FTC ID Theft Report and the government investigation report are completed, you need to make at least five copies of these. Perhaps ten copies, if a copier is not convenient. Send one to each of the major CRAs by certified mail, return receipt requested and inform them in your cover letter that you are an identity theft victim and you need a to place a security freeze on your reports, under California law. A link to the Cal. Office of Privacy is below. The PDF has sample letters and the address to Equifax,Trans Union, and Experian. It is free to identity theft victims. All letters should be sent by certified mail, return receipt requested. Actually get the Post Office's green receipt card, do not rely on electronic delivery notice, because having the actual green card is so much better proof.


Send Letters to the Unknown Companies on Your Credit Reports

Each company on your credit reports, whether as an inquiry or reporting credit history, that you do not believe were entitled to view your credit or that report debts that you did not approve must be contacted at the addresses noted for them on your credit reports. I have a sample letter on my web site (letter #4.1) that you can copy and send to each company, linked below. I don't know if I would provide any of them with a complete copy of your FTC Fraud Affidavit or your SSN or other information, in case these are bad people and may try to use your personal information against you. To start, just send each company the letter #4.1 and a copy of the police report, with your SSN, DOB, and other personal numbers omitted. Don't just cross it out with a pen, because sometimes the numbers can be seen through the pen marks. Make a copy, white it out on the copy, then photocopy the copy so they cannot see through your white out. Certified mail, return receipt requested.


Follow Up with Your Credit Reports

Mark your calendar. The CRA's will respond to your security freeze and ID Theft Reports in a week or so. It's amazingly fast, but if you don't hear from them in two weeks, please call them and find out what's the delay, did they receive and process your request. Check the CRA phone numbers for Identity Theft and Security Freeze on each CRA's web site, so you can avoid waiting in line with everyone else. If you need to send it again, send a new letter with a new date and get another receipt from the post office. If you do make any calls regarding the identity theft situation, please keep a record of the date, time, number dialed, employee name, and what was said. Keep this record of your calls on computer or by making notes on a regular piece of paper in your files.


Check the Court's Records Regularly

Another thing that happens when you are the victim of identity theft is that you may get sued and perhaps even a judgment against you if they deliver the papers to the wrong address. Your local county courthouse may have on-line access that you can regularly search your name to find any cases that have been filed, so you are not surprised. Do not wait for a bogus judgment to (out of the blue) freeze your bank account or garnish your wages. By that time, it will take weeks or months to sort out things, and it can affect you horribly if your money is seized and you have no money to pay your other bills.


Beware of non-lawyer web sites on the Web with Form Letters

One final caveat: There are lots of web sites with free information by non-lawyers. It is highly suspect, particularly the ones that have these two and three-page letters to debt collectors with lots of law and demands for proof of this or that. Please don't visit those web sites or send those type of letters. If you need to go to court for collection harassment or credit reporting violations, these letters are a hindrance to your case. Please do not send just any letter. There are plenty of good letters for free on my web site and I would be happy to help anyone who needs my assistance to shape a standard letter to suit your specific needs. If you ask for help, it may save you so much time.

Additional Resources

FTC Free Annual Credit Report

FTC Identity Theft Complaint and Affidavit

Cal Privacy Office Security Freeze Information

Free Sample Letters for Disputes and Inquiries

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