What is identity theft?
Identity theft takes a variety of forms. It ranges from stealing another’s person’s personal and financial information for private gain to situations of mistaken identity where companies attempt to collect a debt from the wrong person. Identify theft and mistaken identity are a growing problem in the United States. Identity theft often results in financial loss, debt collection calls, and adverse information on credit reports. Resolving identity theft and mistaken identity issues can be extremely frustrating to consumers. Creditors, collectors and credit reporting agencies may be unresponsive, repeatedly demanding identity theft affidavits or other documents. Once the consumer thinks the matter is resolved with that creditor or collector, the alleged debt is sold or assigned to another collector and the entire process is started over again.
While the process can be time consuming, the Johnson Law Firm has assisted many identity theft victims in getting collection calls stopped and with credit and collection matters.
How does an identity get stolen?
Identity thieves steal sensitive financial information by using a variety of techniques. Unfortunately, consumers cannot completely guard against identity theft. Merchants, banks, and other entities possess important personal information. They can lose confidential information or have it stolen from them through hacking and security breaches. Common identity theft methods include:
- Stealing wallets, purses, bank statements or billing information from your mailbox etc.
- Sorting through trash for checkbooks, bank statements, credit card bills, Social Security numbers, and other sensitive information.
- Changing your address by diverting mail away from your home.
- Phishing and Pretexting. A form of fraud that tricks people into providing financial information and passwords by phone or e-mail.
- Security breaches at businesses and banks where you have provided personal information.
- Businesses mixing and changing personal information with other customers, coworkers, relatives, roommates, etc.
What do people do with your personal information?
Identity thieves are able to withdraw money, write checks, open accounts, take out loans, and ruin credit histories.
What should you do if you are a victim of identity theft?
If you believe that you are a victim of identity theft or mistaken identity, you must be persistent and proactive in resolving the issues as quickly as possible. You should immediately take the following steps:
1. Act Immediately and Do Not Ignore the Problems
Identity theft and mistaken identity victims often ignore letters and notices. It is critical that people actively prevent further damage. Financial institutions and debt collectors rarely remedy the problems on their own. They may still be able to obtain judgments and garnishments even though you are the victim.
2. Review your Bank and Credit Card Statements
Review all of your bank, credit card, and financial accounts. Identify all suspicious or false information.
3. Identify Accounts that Have Been Opened Fraudulently In Your Name
Close any accounts that the identity thief opened in your name. Dispute fraudulent transactions in writing. You will need to document all calls and keep written communication regarding the disputed accounts and charges. Change any relevant Internet passwords associated with these accounts.
4. Check Your Credit Report and Dispute
You need to identify any accounts that have been opened in your name and adverse information that is on your credit report. You must dispute any adverse reports on your credit with the three major credit reporting agencies; TransUnion, Equifax and Experian. Keep copies of all of your records.
5. Place a Fraud Alert on Your Credit Report
If you are the victim of identity theft, place a fraud alert on your credit report. A fraud alert helps prevent the identity thief from opening additional accounts and lines of credit. You will be notified when credit is being opened in your name. Although it is extremely difficult to catch identity thieves, fraud alerts also help alert creditors and identify potential identity thieves that possess your personal information.
6. File a Report with the Federal Trade Commission
The Federal Trade Commission assists identity theft victims by maintaining an Identity Theft Data Clearinghouse. Victims should file a complaint and affidavit with the FTC. This information will help clear false information and charges.
7. File a Police Report
Contact your local police department and file a police report regarding the identity theft. There is a slim chance that the identity thief will be caught, but the report is important to help clear your name. Creditors, debt collectors, and credit reporting agencies often treat identity theft victims as thieves or criminals. Police reports quickly dispel any false accusations and help clear fraudulent charges.
8. Remedy On-Going Threats to Your Identity and Personal Information
It is important to take corrective action to prevent further harm. Change your email and bank account usernames and passwords. Notify the Post Office if you suspect your mail has been stolen. Notify the Social Security Administration if your Social Security Number has been compromised. Notify the State Department if your passport has been stolen.
What should I do if a debt collector is calling me regarding a fraudulent account?
Contact our office immediately in order to dispute the alleged debts and to get the calls and correspondence to stop.
Are there remedies for victims of identity theft?
Although the identity thief is rarely caught, it is still possible to prevent further harm and clear your name. The process is tedious, time consuming, and difficult. It is important to know your rights along the way. Contact our office for a free consultation and assistance.