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Reporting Identity Theft 101

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Identity theft has become a common crime, although statistics show occurrences are decreasing from a high of 10.1 million victims in the year 2003 to 8.4 million in 2007, it still costs consumers and affected organizations nearly $50 billion per year (Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, 2007). And it’s not merely an inconvenience or a detriment to a victim’s credit rating, identity theft is classified as a federal crime.

According to the Identity Theft and Assumption Deterrence Act of 1998, it is a federal crime if someone "knowingly transfers or uses, without lawful authority, a means of identification of another person with the intent to commit, or to aid or abet, any unlawful activity that constitutes a violation of the Federal law, or that constitutes a felony under any applicable State or local law."

According to the Federal Trade Commission, the most common forms of identity theft include credit card fraud, bank fraud, communications services fraud (such as opening a cell phone account), and obtaining fraudulent loans used to purchase goods or services. No matter how they do it, though, identity thieves can cost you a lot of time and money as you try to clean up the damage from identity theft.

Steps to Take When You’ve Been a Victim of Identity Theft

If you suspect you have become a victim of identity theft, it is vital that it be properly reported as soon as you discover the crime. Reporting identity theft won’t necessarily have an immediately satisfying answer. Very often, identity theft cases drag on for months, or even years. However, reporting it immediately is one way to limit your financial liability for the crime.

There are several steps you must take to report identity theft. Use the list below as a checklist to help ensure you take all the steps necessary when reporting identity theft.

  • Contact all three major credit reporting agencies and request that a fraud alert be added to your credit report. Fraud alerts are valid for 90 days, and the agency will add your name to the list of those opting out of pre-screened financial offers, such as pre-approved credit cards. Per federal law, you are also entitled to receive a free copy of your credit report.

    Your preference may be to keep a fraud alert message on your personal credit report for a longer period of time you can do that, for up to seven years, and the credit reporting agencies can help you set that up. Such a message will state "Fraudulent applications may be submitted in my name using correct personal information. Do not extend credit without first contacting me personally and verifying all applicant information at (your day phone number) or (your evening phone number). Date reported-(mm/yy)".

  • Contact all of your financial institutions including your bank, credit card companies, and loan companies and either close your current accounts or place a fraud alert on your account.

    If you do choose to close existing accounts and reopen new accounts be sure the financial institutions place a fraud alert on the newly opened accounts, as well. If the thief is not immediately caught, he could still try to access any new financial records. Remember to also change your PIN.

  • Notify your local law enforcement agency, or the Police Department in the location where the theft occurred. The authorities will take your report and begin an investigation. Also file a report with the Federal Trade Commission: 1-877-IDTHEFT (1-877-438-4338). Also, if you suspect mail theft was involved, file a report with your local post office.
  • If the identity theft involves federal funds for education or stolen student information, contact the U.S. Department of Education, Office of Inspector General Hotline: 1-800-MISUSED (1-800-647-8733). You’ll be asked to complete and submit the complaint form which can be found on the Department of Education web site.
  • Be attentive to phone calls or Email messages from creditors or sites where you do not have an account. These communications could be a sign that the thief is still using your identity to create fraudulent accounts. Be sure to review a copy of your credit report from all three credit reporting agencies.

Even after you have reported suspected identity theft to the right agencies and authorities, you should stay alert to signs that your identity is still being compromised. For example, bills or other mailed correspondence that don’t arrive on time could indicate that your mail is being redirected. Receiving credit cards or bills for credit cards which you have not applied for is another good indication that the theft is continuing.

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