Identity Theft. . . What to Do If Your Identity is Stolen

"I don't remember opening that credit card account. And I certainly didn't buy those items I'm being billed for."

Guess what? You didn't open that account, but someone else did...someone who used your name and personal information to commit fraud. When an imposter uses your name, your social security number (SSN), your credit card number, or some other piece of your personal information for their use, without your knowledge, it's a crime.

The problem? You may not know your identity's been stolen until: you start receiving bills for a credit card account you never opened, your credit report includes debts you never knew you had, a billing cycle passes without your receiving a statement, or you see charges on your bills that you didn't authorize and don't know anything about.

If someone has stolen your identity, immediately take these three steps:

First, contact the fraud departments of each of the three major credit bureaus. Tell them to flag your file with a fraud alert including a statement that creditors should get your permission before opening any new accounts in your name.

Simultaneously, ask the credit bureaus for copies of your credit reports. Credit bureaus must give you a free copy of your report if it is inaccurate because of fraud. Review your reports carefully to make sure no additional fraudulent accounts have been opened in your name or unauthorized charges made to your existing accounts. In a few months, order new copies of your reports to verify your corrections and changes, and to make sure no new fraudulent activity has occurred. For more information on your rights and the Fair Credit Reporting Act, log on to

Here are the three major credit bureaus:
CompanyReport FraudOther Credit ReportWeb Site
Equifax(800) 525-6285(800)685-1111
Trans Union(800)680-7289(800)916-8800

Second, contact the creditors for any accounts that have been tampered with or opened fraudulently. Speak with someone in the security or fraud department, and follow up in writing. Following up with a letter is one of the procedures spelled out in the Fair Credit Billing Act for resolving errors on credit billing statements, including charges that you have not made. Sample letters are available in the booklet ID Theft: When Bad things Happen To Your Good Name, log on to

Next, Take Control
Although identity thieves can destroy your personal finances, there are some things you can do to take control of the situation. Here's how to handle some of the most common forms of identity theft:

A- If an identity thief has stolen your mail for access to new credit cards, bank and credit card statements, pre-approved credit offers and tax information or falsified change-of-address forms, (s)he has committed a crime. Report it to your local postal inspector. You may contact the United States Postal Inspection Service online at

B- If an identity thief has changed the billing address on an existing credit card account, close the account! When you open a new account, ask that a password be used before any inquiries or changes can be made on the account. Avoid using easily available information like your mother's maiden name, your birth date, the last four digits of your SSN or your phone number, or a series of consecutive numbers. Avoid the same information and numbers when you create a Personal Identification Number (PIN).

C- If an identity thief has accessed your bank accounts, checking account or ATM card, close the accounts immediately. When you open new accounts, insist on password-only access. If your checks have been stolen or misused, stop payment. If your ATM card has been lost, stolen or otherwise compromised, cancel the card and get another with a new PIN. For more information, you may also contact the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation (FDIC) online at, and the Office of the Comptroller of the Currency online at

D- If an identity thief has established new phone or wireless service in your name and is making unauthorized calls that appear to come from-and are billed to-your cellular phone, or is using your calling card and PIN, contact your service provider immediately to cancel the account and calling card. Get new accounts and new PINs.

E- If an identity thief is using your social security number (SSN) when applying for a job, get in touch with the Social Security Administration (SSA) to verify the accuracy of your reported earnings and that your name is reported correctly. Call (800) 772-1213 to check your social security statement. To report SSN fraud online, log on to

F- If, after trying to resolve the problems brought on by identity theft you continue to experience problems, the SSA may issue you a new SSN at your request. However, consider this option very carefully. A new SSN may not resolve your identity theft problems, and may actually create new problems. For example, a new SSN does not ensure a new credit record because credit bureaus may combine the credit records from your old SSN with those from your new SSN. Even when the old credit information is not associated with your new SSN, the absence of any credit history under your new SSN may make it more difficult for you to get credit. Lastly, there is no guarantee that a new SSN would not also be misused by an identity thief.

G- If any identity thief is using your name or SSN to obtain a driver's license, report it to your Department of Motor Vehicles. Also, if your state uses your SSN as your driver's license number, ask to substitute another number.

Stay Alert Taking the steps outlined here should, in most cases, resolve your identity theft problems, but identity theft or related credit problems may reoccur. Stay alert to new instances of identity theft. Notify the company, creditor or agency that is involved immediately. Follow up in writing!

Order a copy of your credit report from the three credit bureaus every year to check on their accuracy and whether they include only those debts and loans you've incurred. This could be very important if you're considering a major purchase, such as a house or a car. A credit bureau may charge you up to $9.20, or more, for a copy of your report.

FEDERAL TRADE COMMISSION (FTC) If you've been a victim of identity theft, file a complaint with FTC: by contacting the FTC's Identity Theft Hotline toll-free at 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338); or TDD at 202-326-2502; by mail to the Identity Theft Clearinghouse, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue NW, Washington, DC 20580. You may also file a complaint online at$.startup?Z_ORG_CODE=PU03.

The FTC publishes free brochures on identity theft and many consumer issues. For a complete list of publications, write for Best Sellers, Consumer Response Center, Federal Trade Commission, 600 Pennsylvania Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20580; or call toll-free 1-877-FTC-HELP (382-4357), TDD 202-326-2502; or log on to


United States Department of Justice, log on to
United States Secret Service, log on to
Privacy Rights Clearinghouse, log on to

Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office