Thanks to everything from news reports to the experiences of friends and family, most people are well aware of the damage that can result when a person's identity is stolen. It's for this reason that so many are careful to shred their mail, devise complex passwords and exercise restraint when it comes to giving out sensitive information.
While such vigilance is a good idea, the unfortunate reality is that sometimes it's simply not enough. Indeed, a careful person may nevertheless find that someone has opened a credit card in their name or run up some manner of charges with neither their knowledge nor their permission.
Once the initial shock of receiving a monthly statement for a credit card that was never opened or seeing unauthorized debts on a credit report wears off, the affected individual should resist the urge to panic and instead resolve to take the necessary steps to set things right.
While this might seem impossible, experts have provided a sort of blueprint for consumers who find themselves in this unenviable position to follow. Specifically, they're advised to contact several parties as soon as possible.
The three major credit bureaus
A consumer should contact the fraud departments of Trans Union, Equifax and Experian to inform them of what has happened, and to ask them to label their file with a fraud alert. Furthermore, they can request that a condition be placed on their file requiring any creditor looking to open a new account to ask for permission beforehand.
While consumers are entitled to a free copy of their credit report from the three bureaus every year, they are also entitled to free copies if their credit report is inaccurate owing to fraud. Once these copies are secured, the consumer is advised to look it over carefully for any more unauthorized charges or new accounts.
Experts recommend that consumers repeat this process several months later to ensure that all necessary changes have been made by creditors (see below) and there has been no reoccurrence of fraud.
Once the three credit bureaus have been contacted, the consumer is advised to next start calling the fraud departments of the creditors associated with any tampered or unauthorized accounts to resolve the issue. Per the Fair Credit Billing Act, individuals are strongly encouraged to draft a follow-up letter for each creditor.
Consumers are encouraged to file a report with their local police department or the police department in the jurisdiction in which the identity fraud occurred. Given that some creditors may require proof of this report before taking action to remove the fraudulent charges, it's highly recommend consumers secure multiple copies.
We'll continue exploring some additional steps consumers can take in a future post.
In the meantime, if your identity has been stolen and you are encountering difficulty with uncooperative creditors, consider speaking with a legal professional who can enforce your rights.