Identity Theft – Recovery Steps

Posted on Wednesday, October 5th, 2011

by Jennifer E. Acuff, CPA, CFP®, PFS, Windham Brannon Financial Group, LLC

“I wasn’t prepared for this” says a client who was a recent victim of identity theft. He calculated that it was much more than the approximate 200-250 hours that he has already put in to try and remedy the horrific situation – “it was the frustration”.

If you know (or think) you have been a victim of identity theft, here are some helpful steps to follow to protect yourself:

  • Call all three Credit Reporting Agencies – initial alert, extended alert, security freeze:
    • Experian 1-888-EXPERIAN (39737426)
    • Equifax 1-800-685-1111o
    • TransUnion 1-800-916-8800

A fraud alert puts a special notation in your credit that you may be a victim of identity theft. Creditors are then required to take additional measures to verify your identity before approving credit in your name. This initial fraud alert stays on your record for 90 days. An extended fraud alert stays on your record for 7 years, but you must show evidence that you have been a victim of identity theft (i.e – police report).  An additional step is putting a security freeze on your account with all 3 agencies. This makes it very difficult for others to try and open credit in your name. If you later need credit, it can be unfrozen by calling each of the agencies.

Note that when you put the initial fraud alert on your record, it is by phone on an automated system. An observation from our client was that “you are very reluctant to give [The Credit Bureau’s automated system] all the information that someone just stole from you”. He said that this is a very vulnerable time immediately following the identity theft, and “it was very hard to convince me not to be paranoid”.

  • Carefully review the credit report that the Agencies send after you file the alert.
  • Create an ID Theft Report with the Federal Trade Commission (the FTC) by calling 1-877-IDTHEFT (438-4338).
    The form is also available from the Federal Trade Commission at www.ftc.gov/idtheft. Additionally, you can provide a printed copy of your online Complaint form to the police to incorporate into their police report.  The printed FTC ID Theft Complaint, in conjunction with the police report, can constitute an Identity Theft Report and entitle you to certain protections.  This Identity Theft Report can be used to (1) permanently block fraudulent information from appearing on your credit report; (2) ensure that debts do not reappear on your credit report; (3) prevent a company from continuing to collect debts that result from identity theft; and (4) place an extended fraud alert on your credit report.

Word of caution – this Q&A form is very hard to use and doesn’t always apply to your specific situation. There are no places on the form to clarify the details of what happened.

  • Close the accounts that you know have been tampered with. Word of Caution – although a cumbersome task, it is crucial in preventing future fraudulent activity! You will also need to be sure and update any auto debit payments with the new checking account or debit/credit card number so that you are not delinquent on any bills.
  • Call your other creditors (credit card companies) to notify them about the theft.
    If you have accounts that appear to be untouched, do not close those accounts, but contact the companies to inform them about your situation and at least change your Personal Identification Numbers (PIN) and your passwords. Some credit card companies may offer other security measures that can take effect immediately.
  • File a report with your local police or the police in the community where the identity theft took place.
    Inform your local police department that you want to file a report about your identity theft.   If the theft took place out of state, a police report will be difficult to obtain.  You must be persistent about getting this report or you cannot get a new Driver’s License! (Hint: The police department can mark the form “information only” so the local police don’t have to follow up on the report.) Ask the officer to attach or incorporate the ID Theft Complaint you filed with the FTC into their police report. Tell them that you need a copy of the “Identity Theft Report” (the police report with your ID Theft Complaint attached or incorporated) to be able to dispute any future fraudulent account activity created by the identity thief.
  • Obtain a new Driver’s License Number – you will need to take a copy of the police report and Identity Theft Report in order to get a new license. IMPORTANT – be sure you get a new drivers license number when you get your new card.
  • Contact the Social Security Administration – Toll free at 1-800-772-1213
    This is in the extreme case when your SSN has been stolen and frequently being used. The police will then likely recommend you go through the rigorous process of obtaining a new number. Otherwise, just be prepared to monitor the use of your SSN for the rest of your life by checking credit reports & your annual Social Security Wage Statement for accuracy.
  • Stolen Passport Only: Notify the US State Department in writing to the following address:

U.S Department of State, Passport Services
Consular Lost/Stolen Passport Section
1111 19th St NE Ste 500
Washington, DC 20036

Unfortunately it could take weeks, months, or even years to finally clear up your identity and completely refurbish your credit. When asked for final advice from a recent victim, he said to “keep notes on everything you do and everyone you talk to”.  Remember that YOU are your best advocate in this situation, so be persistent and leave no stone unturned!

Jennifer E. Acuff is a wealth advisor for Windham Brannon Financial Group, LLC, a wealth management firm in Atlanta, A Certified Public Accountant (CPA), Certified Financial Planner (CFP®) and a Personal Financial Specialist (PFS), Jennifer has an extensive background in personal tax planning and consulting. She can be reached at jacuff@wbfinancial.com or 678-510-2766.

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