Wednesday, September 30, 2015

What To Do If Your Identity Is Stolen your identity stolen is a major pain in the ass. I know. My wife had hers stolen seven years ago and it took over a year to get everything straightened out. If this happens to you, here's what to expect and what to do.

Something Strange Is Going On

Our first hint that something was wrong was when my wife received a letter from a check cashing company that her check had bounced. Since she had never used a check cashing company, something obviously was up. The next day, we also received a letter from a local grocery store chain that two checks had bounced. The letter included images of the checks. They were from a bank that we have never used and, surprisingly, they had her real drivers license number written on them.

First Steps

  • File a police report -We called the store to get some more information, but that was a dead end. The store had already written the checks off as uncollectable and couldn't tell us anything else. So we called the police department to file a report. This was more difficult than you might think. Our local police department told us that because the checks were written at a store in another city, we had to call that city's police department to file a report. When we called, them, they said we had to file with our local police department and, if there was enough evidence, our police department would pass the case on to them for further investigation. So we called our local police again and they finally agreed to send someone out to our house to take our statement.
  • Contact the credit bureaus - Contact the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion, and Experian, and put a 90 day fraud alert on your account. This can be done over the phone via an automated process. This may also trigger a copy of your credit report getting sent to you. There should not be a charge setting the fraud alert. If you have to pay, you are buying some additional product and not simply setting a fraud alert.
  • Review Your Accounts - If you don't closely review your bank and credit card statements each month, do so now. Look over the last two months (at least) in detail and note any unknown charges.
  • Get New Credit Cards Issued - Even if it seems like credit cards are not involved (which was the case for my wife), you should still call up your credit card companies and tell them you suspect you have been the victim of identity theft and want new credit cards issued. You'll need to update any recurring billing accounts you have to use the new card numbers.

Next Steps

  • Get A Copy Of The Police Report -  When the police report is done, you should get a copy sent to you, but don't wait too long for it. If you haven't received it within 3 days after you gave your statement to the police, call them up and ask for it. The officer who took your statement should have given you his business card and possibly a case number.
  • Submit A Copy Of The Police Report To The Credit Bureaus - You can file a written request with a copy of the police report to each credit bureau and that will extend the fraud alert on your account from 90 days to 1 year.
  • Request A Credit Freeze From The Credit Bureaus - A fraud alert on your account will not stop banks or businesses from opening accounts in your name. All it does is warn the requesting company that you have reported that your identity has been stolen and that they should ask for extra verification before opening accounts in your name. A credit freeze, however, will prevent anyone from opening a new credit account in your name. While a fraud alert will automatically be discontinued after a year, a credit freeze stays in effect until you cancel it. You can temporarily disable a freeze for a fixed number of days if, for example, you know you will be applying for a loan or a credit card at a certain time. We left the credit freeze in place on my wife's file for 3 years. Again, this is free. If you are asked to pay, you have been upsold to some product or service you probably don't need.
  • Get New Checks / Account Numbers - If the identity theft involved your actual bank account numbers, contact your bank and tell them what happened and ask for new account numbers and new checks. In my wife's case, the bad checks were from someone else's account at a different bank. (The police told us the thief likely took the original name and address off the checks with chemicals and then re-printed my wife's info on them.) If you have direct deposit set up to the affected account, contact your employer to get that info updated with your new account numbers.
  • Get A New Driver's License With A New Number - We eventually realized that the thief must have obtained my wife's driver's license number from when her purse was stolen 2 years prior. Although she requested a new license from the Motor Vehicle Division then, she simply got a replacement card with the same number. If your identity was stolen, you'll want a new number.

The Next Year And Beyond

  • Stay Vigilant - Monitor all bills and statements line-by-line for at least the next year. You never know when some other charge will show up.
  • Follow Up With Police - About 3 weeks after we filed the police report, we heard back that the person bouncing checks in my wife's name had been caught. The police will want to know if you want to press charges. You do. You most likely will not have to go to court - the police already took your statement, after all - but if you don't press charges, the thief could be let go. Saying you want to press charges will also keep you informed of the progress of the case. You'll get letters after each court appearance explaining what was done and what the thief's eventual sentence was.
  • Keep Copies Of Everything - Keep copies (paper or electronic) of everything you receive regarding this process, especially the police report. You'll need it for evidence this actually happened to you. Years later, we received a letter or two from debt collectors trying to collect for the bounced checks. We had to send them a copy of the police report to prove the debt was not valid.
  • Monitor Your Credit Report - You'll get a free copy of your credit report when you file the fraud alert, but continue to monitor your credit reports. (This is something you should be doing anyway.) You can get a free copy once a year by going to (Beware of the various upselling offers to try to get you to spend money. By law, they have to give you your report for free. Just your report - not your credit score.) If you request a copy from a different company every four months, you can basically monitor your credit all year long. Set a reminder in your calendar. Note that if you have a credit freeze on your account, you cannot request a copy of your report online. You'll need to do it by mail and provide a copy of one or two valid identification documents with the request.
  • Protect Yourself - Take steps to prevent this from happening again. Don't leave your car unlocked or leave valuable possessions in it. Invest in a shredder and shred any document that has an account number on it. Use a password manger like LastPass to create secure, different passwords for each website you use.

 Having your identity stolen sets in motion a whole chain of events that sucks up hours of your time and can causes lots of headaches. You can get through it and recover, but you have to pay attention to details and watch your finances like a hawk for a good amount of time.


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