Identity theft is on the rise. You see it on the evening news. Credit card companies advertise their products and services to prevent ID theft. Friends and family tell you to shred bank statements and bills. Baxter & Baxter, LLP, has compiled some useful information for dealing with the identity theft epidemic from a consumer’s perspective.
Determining Whether You’re a Victim
The first step is determining whether identity theft has been perpetrated against you. Often, this comes in the form of billing statements or demands for payment by bill collectors.
Consumers should also regularly check their credit report for unauthorized activity. Under the Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act, you are entitled to a free copy of your credit report each year.
While it is possible to access your credit report online, some credit reporting companies require consumers to give up important rights in order to access their credit report through their website. Also, it can be confusing navigating the many links advertising services that you do not necessarily need. A better way is to request it by mail.
Consumers can request their free annual credit report by writing to Annual Credit Report Request Service, P.O. Box 105281, Atlanta, GA 30348-5281. The request form is available at the Federal Trade Commission website.
Stop Ongoing ID Theft
Close accounts which you know are being used for fraudulent purposes. These accounts may have been opened by the ID thief, or they may be your legitimate accounts which have been compromised. Cooperate with creditors to ensure that the accounts are not used for further unlawful purchases.
Make a Record
File a police report in your local jurisdiction and any jurisdictions where fraudulent accounts may have been opened or used. Follow the police department’s procedure to obtain copies of the police report.
Fill out fraud affidavits, if requested. Individual creditors may require you to fill out their forms to comply with their internal policies and procedures. Carefully read the affidavits and ensure they are accurate before signing. Request a copy for your records.
Notify government agencies. You can file your fraud affidavits with the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting its website at www.ftc.gov.
This process may take some time, but stick with it. The paper trail you create now will protect you in the future.
Dispute False Collections and Credit Reports
You now have a strong record of identity theft. When you receive collection letters from bill collectors or other creditors, do not ignore them. Send a polite, professional letter disputing the validity of the accounts. Tell the companies that you are the victim of identity theft. Enclose copies of your police reports and fraud affidavits. Request verification of the bills, or in the alternative, a statement by the creditor that you are not responsible for the alleged debt. Always send your correspondence via certified mail, with a return receipt requested, and keep a copy of your signed, dated letter for your records.
Also write to the credit reporting agencies to dispute any false account information. Be specific about the nature of your dispute, and tell the credit reporting agencies that you are the victim of identity theft. In addition to police reports and fraud affidavits, send copies of any correspondence from creditors acknowledging that you do not owe the alleged debt.
The addresses for the “Big Three” credit reporting agencies are:
PO Box 740241
Atlanta, GA 30374
PO Box 9701
Allen, TX 75013
Trans Union LLC
PO Box 1000
Chester, PA 19022