When you’re a victim of financial identity theft, there are some vital steps to take on the road to recovery. If you believe you've become a victim of identity theft, make sure you've taken the initial steps.
Get a copy of your credit reports. A federal law called FACTA gives you the right to review your credit reports once a year. You can get one from each of the three credit-reporting agencies (CRAs). If you’re a victim of identity theft, you have the right to another copy.
You can order all of them online here, or you can call the agencies directly:
- Experian - 1-888-397-3742 (TDD 1-800-972-0322)
- Equifax - 1-888-766-0008 (TDD 1-800-255-0056 and request connection to Auto Disclosure Line at 1-800-685-1111)
- Transunion - 1-800-680-7289 (TDD 1-877-553-7803)
Check for errors. In 2003, 70% of all credit reports were found to have errors. Be sure to mark everything that’s wrong. Number items for reference in a letter of dispute. Check the negative (or “derogatory”) items, but also look at previous addresses, former employers, other names (or “aliases”) and positive items, too.
Get it in writing. You can dispute errors with the CRAs over the phone, but it’s a better idea to handle this through certified mail. Keep copies of everything you send them, and receipts for certified mail. Letters need to have the following information:
- Your full name
- Your social security number
- Your address
- Your 10-digit phone number
- Each item that is wrong (refer to the copy you marked)
- Why those items are wrong
- Your signature
- A copy of the credit report you marked earlier
Send letters to the Dispute Resolution Department at the CRAs address:
- Experian, P. O. Box 9532, Allen, TX 75013-9532
- Equifax, P. O. Box 740241, Atlanta, GA 30374-0241
- TransUnion, Box 6790, Fullerton, CA 92834-6790
You should get a response from each of the CRAs within 30 days.
Go to the source. After a CRA looks into your dispute, you may still information in the new report that isn't yours. You can contact the company that reported the item you’re trying to clear up directly. Tell them you want the information they based their report on. (Again, do this by certified mail.)
Some companies will say you can’t have this information. Stand your ground. The Fair Credit Reporting Act (FCRA) says if a company "extends credit, provides services, or sells goods to" someone using your name, they must provide you with:
- a copy of the application used, and
- all business transaction records.
They must also give that information to any law enforcement if you tell them to.Learn More:
- FTC’s publication telling businesses they must provide this information (PDF)
- Read the Fair Credit Reporting Act
Make comments in your credit report. This is another right most people don’t know they have. Here’s a great note to put in:
“This consumer has been a victim of identity theft. Contact the consumer directly at (your phone number) before extending new lines of credit.”
Think about putting an extended fraud alert in place. The fraud alert you put on your credit only lasts three months. (Active duty military can place one for a year when they go on a deployment.) But you can put an extended fraud alert on your credit that lasts for 7 years. You will have to send a copy of the identity theft police report to the CRA.
Fraud alerts don’t always help. If a company doesn’t check credit reports, they won’t see fraud alerts either. Todd Davis, CEO of LifeLock®, had this problem in 2008. Davis posts his social security number on TV, radio, and the Internet to show how confident he is in his company's ability to protect his identity. An identity thief got a $500 loan in his name using that information. Davis openly admits “...fraud alerts aren't always going to be bulletproof. There are areas where someone can still compromise your information.”Learn More: LifeLock® CEO victim of identity theft
Other things to know:
- When an alert expires, creditors can not see there has ever been an alert on that account.
- Even if a creditor sees your fraud alert, they may still choose to ignore it and extend someone credit.
- Placing a fraud alert will not opt you out of credit offers. You can do that by visiting this website, or calling 800-5-OPT-OUT.